In the composition, Lady Peace is shown flying above white cumulus clouds and casting a small shadow on them. Thus the painting combines two characteristics that the artist, Eric Sloane, is particularly well known for — aviation and interesting, colorful cloud formations. Sloane did the painting about the time of the flight, in 1936, and Dick Merrill later presented it as a gift to his fellow early aviation pilot Bill Waller in 1977. In doing so Merrill inscribed the painting on the verso to Waller as “one of the all time great pilots.” Merrill also signed the front of the painting with his own name, dated 1977, and added the name of Harry Richman in facsimile — all above Eric Sloane’s original artist signature.
The Vultee V-1A was designed as a high-speed transport plane and produced between 1934 and 1936, during which time it set many aviation records. The first round trip transatlantic flight between New York and London immortalized in the painting was sponsored by Harry Richman, a popular singer and actor whose heyday was during the 1920s and ’30s. Richman was also a part-time pilot and put up $360,000 — at least $5 million dollars in today’s money — to retrofit the plane for the long flight, including what is variously reported to be between 30,000 and 41,000 ping pong balls. These were stowed in the plane to help it float in case of a forced water landing, earning the journey the sobriquet “the Ping Pong Flight.”
Richman engaged Dick Merrill, chief pilot of Eastern Airlines, as his captain. Although hampered by bad weather and an error by Richman that forced an emergency landing in Newfoundland, they succeeded in pulling off the feat within 12 days. A short film clip of the initial take-off from Floyd Bennett Airfield in Brooklyn, New York, on September 2, 1936, is posted online (see References below). Merrill went on to further cement his reputation as a pioneering aviator and outstanding pilot. In 1937, he completed the first commercial transatlantic flight and set a speed record decades later at the age of 78. At his death it was reported he had logged more miles than any pilot in history.
Eric Sloane was born in New York City. He was an artist and self-educated Renaissance man: author, illustrator, painter and possibly the first TV weatherman. Initially trained in sign painting and lettering, he left home as a teenager to become an itinerant artist, painting signs on barns and stores. Back in the New York area and fascinated by aviation, he began painting lettering on airplanes at Roosevelt Field in Long Island. By the mid 1930s he was making oil paintings of airplanes, which he often sold to the pilots who owned them. A few of these, along with a pictorial airport map of Long Island, printed on a sheet of aluminum, can be viewed on georgeglazer.com. Sloane traded painting lessons for flying lessons with the famous aviator Wiley Post. Aviation led to a lifelong passion of painting clouds and skies, and eventually the airplanes vanished from his compositions as he focused solely on the clouds formations.
Sloane also was a prolific painter of landscapes, especially marsh scenes and picturesque rural vistas. Probably his best-known painting is Earth Flight Environment, a mural in the lobby of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He also authored 38 books on American history, rural architecture, early American tools, weather and aviation. According to his web site, “Sloane is credited with being the first television weatherman, having come up with the idea of having farmers from all over New England call in their weather observations to a Dumont, New York, TV station where they could be broadcast to the regional audience.” His collection of antique tools is housed in the Sloane Stanley Museum in Kent, Connecticut. A colorful character, Sloane lived to age 80 and was married five times.
Inscription lower right by Dick Merrill: “Dick Merrill 1977/ Harry Richman.”
Inscription verso by Dick Merrill: “To Bill Waller one of the all time great pilots/Dick Merrill.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Recently professionally cleaned and revarnished, with minor abrasions restored. Old frame, possibly original, with the usual light wear.
Backstreet, Jack. “Dick Merrill.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0581276/bio (12 November 2012).
Eckland, K.O. “Lady Peace and Her Partners.” Aerofiles. http://www.aerofiles.com/ladypeace.html (12 November 2012).
“Harry Richman.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0725030/ (12 November 2012).
Smith, Marshall. “A Short Biography of Eric Sloane.” Eric Sloane. 1 November 1999. http://www.ericsloane.com/ (19 May 2009).
“Vultee V-1A aircraft ‘Lady Peace’ seen from the air at start of round trip translatlantic flight.” Critical Past. http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675049740_Vultee-V1A-Lady-Peace_taking-off_views-from-another-aircraft (12 November 2012).