Tour de France legends told through art

British artists James Straffon created 13 murals based on cycling legends Delano

British artists James Straffon created 13 murals based on cycling legends Delano

The British Ambassador to Luxembourg and a UK artist have joined forces to bring a special street art exhibition to the grand duchy to mark the Tour de France's passage through the country.

Soon after British ambassador to Luxembourg John Marshall arrived in the grand duchy in early 2016, he knew he wanted to do something a little less on the political side that would bring together things that Luxembourgers are passionate about. As far as Marshall could tell, those things were cycling and art.

“Conscious that the Tour de France was coming back to Luxembourg after several years, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do something around that time?’” said Marshall at a press conference on Tuesday.

Marshall looked to the Internet and came across James Straffon, a British artist with previous collections devoted to the Tour de France and its history. The two men met in Luxembourg in January 2017 and quickly settled on the idea of telling the history of the Tour de France through some of its classic figures. The project they envisioned would be an exhibition of large-scale artworks as well as street art located in various places in the city and its neighbouring communes.

“We had gotten quite far into the project before the ambassador even really knew what I was going to do,” Straffon said. “He was aware of my past works of the Tour de France, but to his credit, he kind of had a huge amount of faith in me to create something.”

"a tremendously exciting project"

The final product includes 12 canvases that were shown in a vernissage at the ambassador’s residence on 27 June in addition to the street art. Another component of stencilled versions of the canvases were recently painted on some trees in the city as a last minute idea.

“It’s been a tremendously exciting project,” Marshall said. “What’s been particularly fun has been wandering through town and watching people stop in front of these artworks and talk about them and take pictures and selfies with them.”

The same 12 images of the men can be found in Place Guillaume II with a bonus thirteenth cyclist who’s only in street art form: Luxembourger François Faber.

In total, three of the 12 cyclists are Luxembourgers. The rest are from Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands.

Straffon wasn’t content with just painting portraits, though. He took the project even further and created a narrative to go along with the artwork.

James Straffon is seated next to a canvas of Tom Simpson, one of Britain's most successful professional cyclists

Renert the fox

“I didn’t want to be a British artist coming to Luxembourg, doing my thing, exhibiting and going home,” said Straffon. “It was important for me to incorporate something of the culture here into what I was doing. I did some research into art and literature in Luxembourg and came across Michel Rodange and his story about Renert the fox.”

Straffon ended up with “When the Fox Met the Rooster and Other Stories”, which tells of Renert’s adventures while unearthing the myths and legends of the Tour de France.

“My thinking was I could rewrite the fable and use him as my narrator,” Straffon said. “He would explore the Tour de France and learn about the history by meeting these cyclists.”

To Straffon, the project is about much more than cycling. While he may be regarded as a “cycling artist,” the sport isn’t his main focus.

“For me, it’s about the sort of heroic deeds and the time these cyclists lived in”, Straffon said. “They had jobs they had to do. ‘Le Petit Ramoneur’, who won the first tour, was a chimney sweep. It was the trials and tribulations of taking yourself out from being a father to winning the Tour de France. It’s the human endeavour which I found interesting.”

See the art work in Luxembourg

Check out Place Guillaume II and communes along the Tour de France route through Luxembourg to view the street art versions of these portraits. Alternatively, see the original canvases by heading to the British Embassy residence, at 16 boulevard Roosevelt, on 4 July, when it will be open to the public between 12 noon and 7pm.

To find out more, visit the British Embassy in Luxembourg's Facebook page