Henri Gray was a pseudonym of Henri Boulanger (1858-1924). He used the name H. Gray to sign his posters, though for more racy subject matter, he used the moniker Orivois (meaning spicy).
He began his career designing magazine illustrations and covers, and started working for cycle companies during the 1890s ‘belle epoque’ poster craze in Paris. He is well known for his bicycle posters.
Other artists noted for designing bicycle posters include Jean de Palealogue (known as ‘Pal’), Georges Massias, Franciso Tamango and Georges Favre. Boulanger was one of the most prolific, and Hurtu was one of his regular employers. There are not many surviving Hurtu cars or bicycles, so Hurtu is much better known these days for their posters, which are frequently reprinted to adorn the walls of enthusiasts.
1898 Hurtu Safety Bicycle
Fixed Wheel with front plunger brake
Hurtu was one of France’s top manufacturers, selling cars as early as 1896. The company was known for superb build quality, innovation and excellent design, whether in their sewing machines, cycles or automobiles.
This rare Hurtu safety bicycle is interesting as it has the earlier 1890s chainwheel design, though with half inch chain as a concession to modernity. Freewheel hubs and coaster brakes were just about to revolutionize cycling, though French manufacturers took longer to upgrade their machines than their British and American counterparts.
Riding the Hurtu is an enjoyable experience, and I would compare it to a Humber of similar age. It’s in excellent all round original condition and ready to ride.
HURTU, HAUTIN et DILIGEON
Albert, Somme, France
In 1867, Jean-Charles-Emile Diligeon, Victor Joseph Hautin and Jacques-Auguste Hurtu pooled their resources to form a company Hurtu, Hautin et Diligeon to manufacture sewing machines.
The company exhibited at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in 1889, held to commemorate the storming of the Bastille a century before. The main symbol of the Fair was the Eiffel Tower, which served as the entrance arch to the Fair. The 1889 fair was built on the Champ de Mars in Paris, which had been the site of the 1867 Exposition, and would be the site of the 1900 Exposition too. The fair marked the first time that visitors were allowed to go onto the yet unfinished Eiffel Tower. Though not yet completed, exhibition attendees were allowed to walk up to the second floor platform.
Hurtu cycle posters of the 1890s display a reference to their attendance at this event. The assumption is therefore that they had started making bicycles by 1889, making their debut at the 1889 World’s Fair as cycle constructeurs as well as sewing machine manufacturers.
The posters above and below are pre-1895 because the company name is shown as Hurtu, Hautin & Diligeon.
Diligeon bought out his partners in 1895 and renamed the company Diligeon et Cie. The Hurtu name was still used for the company’s bicycles, though some advertising posters after 1895 showed the name Diligeon et Cie underneath the Hurtu name.
The new company built the Leon Bollee tricar under license in 1896, making more of these then Leon Bollée themselves.
Four wheel vehicles followed in 1897 with a close copy of the German Benz, a version of which was also made in England by Belsize Motors of Manchester.
The company became Compagnie des Auto et Cycles Hurtu in 1899 (below).
Hurtu continued their poster campaign into the twentieth century. These days, although most people have never seen a Hurtu bicycle from the 1800s, they are familiar with the company name because of these fabulous posters.
Although Hurtu stopped making cars in 1930, the company continued to manufacture bicycles and, postwar, small motorcycles and cyclemotors.