Truck And Painter Pairings Number One: Cold Start

Cs Studetruck

I put that “Number One” in the headline there in an act of optimism, suggesting that I may somehow remember to do this little sub-series inside the series that is whatever Cold Start is, starting your day every glorious morning. I didn’t actually plan this, it’s just something that struck me on a gut level, visually, when I looked at this 1949 Studebaker truck brochure and something about the colors, shapes, and general visual tone that reminded me of a very specific painter: Thomas Hart Benton.

Thb 1939 Noon

This is Noon, a 1939 Benton painting from the collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and I hope you can see the resemblance I’m talking about. There’s something about the warm color palette, and the way that Benton always seemed to render everything in a sort of rubbery, rounded way that I think meshes well with the overstuffed sofa-like lines of late ’40s automotive design.

There is, of course, a strong thematic and cultural link as well, as it would be incredibly easy to imagine that truck hanging out in the background of that undulating farmscape.

Did you know Thomas Hart Benton taught Jackson Pollack? Look at some of Pollack’s pre-action painting works and you’ll see the resemblance.



This Studebaker truck also got me wondering about what the longest automaker name that’s been on a truck tailgate might be. Studebaker is pretty long at 10 letters, but it’s matched by Volkswagen. The winner seems to be International, which clocks in at 13 letters! I can’t think of a longer name that may have been on a tailgate, but as soon as I say things like that, usually some commenter will find something to prove that wrong.

I guess we’ll find out!

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20 Responses

    1. The Studebaker’s designer (Bob Bourke) claims that his tailgate was the first one to have the brand stamped into it like that.
      I know this because I photographed a 2R5 at a Concours back in June, which led to me realizing there was no Wikipedia article on the 2R/3R series, and so I wrote a WP article this October. I still retain a lot of 2R info but am currently displacing it by doing research on the 1988-93 Pontiac LeMans. Fun times.

  1. Thomas Hart Benton – great pick/match! I enjoy his paintings with steam trains in particular. “New Road” kind of popped into my head when I saw the Studebaker and read the title, so I was expecting Grant Wood. I’m glad you added “Number 1” – looking forward to the whole series!

  2. That’s indeed a lovely painting as well as a lovely truck. Wonder if it’d be possible to find out who the artist was. Speaking of paintings of trucks, Wendell Minor made a similarly lovely painting of a pretty dilapidated circa ’47 Dodge truck as the cover illustration for the first edition (1977) of a non-fiction book by John Jerome titled Truck: On Rebuilding a Worn-Out Pickup and Other Post-Technological Adventures
    Among the interesting things John Jerome, a former editor for Car and Driver magazine writes about in that book is how he gripes about “black box” technology where he can’t just rebuild components when working on cars and the eponymous truck and he has to buy complete assemblies; mind you, this was all the way back in the mid-70s, nearly 50 years ago! That was already an issue then…

    1. Truck is a great book! His low-key rants about the ‘Techno-Wizards’ are fun and even more applicable today. I reread it every few years, and you’ve prompted me to search it out again. So happy to see someone else enjoyed it.

      The premise is that he couldn’t find a decent truck for the then-standard $200, so he decided to buy one and go through it completely. Some great drawings (not high-art, but understandable to even non-car people) and digressions. The final chapter sums up the reality that a project is never done in a wry & relatable manner. Highly recommended!

  3. I share an alley with an automotive upholstery shop. There has been a red beat up version of that Studebaker in the Alley for the past 5 years. its been sitting for years, not sure if the owner lost interest. He has a good collection of oddities like a 40’s Hudson Pickup truck

  4. Ok Torch, I’ve been following you and Tracy for years now and you’ve finally got me to register to comment since this article hits the intersection of my hobby (cars) and career (art/illustration).

    I was pretty sure the artist would be findable since the postwar years were a high point for American illustration used in advertising and the clear quality of the rendering would have left this person in regular demand.

    I haven’t seen this specific illustration with attribution, but Frederic Tellander produced many Studebaker advertising images often with complicated background scenery and the color palette and brushwork is very similar to this image.

  5. Jason, very nice to read about this, love the connections you always seem to find with art / artist styles. And always a fine pleasure to learn about a new painter and this in connection to my love of Studebaker trucks, thanks !

  6. With the new EVs searching for brand names, I’m betting Studebaker and VW will be ousted as the #2 spot soon. Bollinger is 9 letters already and its only been around for a short while, they may even use the full “Bollinger Motors” and just smash into that #1 spot.

    Of course, this being the era of less is more (except when more is more) then we might just have a small badge on the back somewhere instead of the awesomeness that is the full width lettering.

  7. Love the concept! I hope you keep this going. In this case, I see what you mean but I see more of a connection with Edward Hopper’s work. The sky, colors and particularly the death of people matches better with Hopper IMHO.

  8. Whoda thought an Art History major would be so appropriate for an Automotive Blog writer?
    No..really..I’m all about these excursions into the art of it and Jason’s elaborations are terrific.

    1. Jason’s an art history major and he drives a Yugo! The jokes write themselves, even if they don’t quite fit and have to be shimmied in through the hatchback turned a very specific way.

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