Abel Petit, a noted French illustrator, was friends with many road and track racers during the 1920s and ’30s. His art was often used for advertising posters that adorned the walls and buildings of Europe. Where Petit differed a bit from his poster-artist colleagues was his penchant for smaller, whimsical drawings of bike riders. In a single work, he conveyed notable characteristics of the rider, be it nationality, personality, physical attributes or nickname.
In this original drawing, the subject is Alfred Letourneur, the formidable six-day rider from France who emigrated to the United States and made a name for himself on the domestic velodromes. An excellent rider, he competed in 79 six-day races and won 21—all of them in North America. Letourneur also set the world motor-paced speed record, not once but twice. The first was in France in 1938 where he hit 147.06 kilometers per hour, paced by a motorcycle on the Montlhéry autodrome. The second time was in 1941 when he propelled his Schwinn bicycle behind a midget car at 175.29 kph on old Highway 99 outside of Bakersfield, California.
In this drawing, Petit wonderfully captures the spirits of France and the United States, Letourneur’s characteristic wavy hair, jersey to match his “Red Devil” nickname and sense of speed. Clearly a fan, the artist asked Letourneur to sign his original drawing as a souvenir to be put into Petit’s personal collection.