Ever in Vogue...

The Genteel Art of Rene Bouche

In this era of "high-tech" TV promos and equally flashy print ads, it is hard to remember that there was once a time when networks went out of their way to produce elegant, even artful, advertising messages.  Back in the mid-1950s, for example, Bill Golden, then art director for the CBS Television Network (and a former employee of the Conde Nast magazine empire), commissioned a number of big-name artists to illustrate CBS ads and promotional material.  His intent was two-fold: to promote specific shows, but also to give the network itself a glamorous, high-class image. 

Among the artists commissioned was Rene Robert (“R. R.”) Bouche, a successful French painter and portraitist who had gained fame as a fashion illustrator for Conde Nast’s popular Vogue magazine.

Bouche sketched many of the top CBS stars, including Lucy and Desi (above) , Jack Benny and Red Skelton.  The latter two were quickly adopted by their respective subjects and used henceforth as their "official" logos.  The Benny sketch was even used on-the-air for many years as the title card for The Jack Benny Program.

The Lucy-Desi sketch, however, seems to have been used for only a short time, then retired – perhaps because it was quite clearly of “Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,” not the wide-eyed, scatterbrained “Lucy” that CBS and Desilu usually promoted.  The sketch has resurfaced from time to time...  Paramount TV in the early 1970s even lopped off the Desi sketch and used the Lucy face to promote syndicated reruns of The Lucy Show.

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Very little detail is known about Rene Bouche himself.  Born in Europe in 1906, he arrived at what would be his "bread and butter" career at age 33, when he persuaded the editors of the French-edition of Vogue to allow him to contribute sketches of the latest fashions.  His work appeared in both the French and British versions of the magazine, and he produced one of the prettiest covers of the year, showing a milliner's shop full of the summer's bows and flowers, ribbons and laces, straws and tulles.  That summer of 1939 was the last that Europe would enjoy for half a decade.  In September, Nazi Germany marched into Poland and set in motion what would quickly become a World War.

Bouche, a Czech emegre, joined the French army, fought the German invasion in May, 1940, was captured by the Nazi's, escaped, fled the country and reached New York City in early 1941.  He went at once to the Conde Nast offices seeking employment -- but failed to impress the American editors of his ability.  Undaunted, he had the nerve to ask for -- and to get -- a subsidy and six weeks' grace period in order to practice and prove his worth.

It was that spring of 1941 that Bouche's career effectively began.  Almost immediately he made a considerable "second impression" on Vogue's New York editors, and he quickly became a regular contributor to the magazine.  His work was almost exclusively black-and-white sketches, with a few full-color pieces offered up when the assignment or subject-matter warranted. Stylistically, his sketches often resembled what one critic called "frantic calligraphy," yet their mood was always soft and gentle.

By the 1950s, Bouche's reputation as a sketch artist had spread beyond the world of fashion magazines, and he was very much in demand for celebrity portraits.  In 1961, he produced one for the then-First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy.

Bouche died unexpectedly in 1963 in England.  An obituary notice appeared in Vogue, written by William S. Lieberman, then Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  He wrote, "As an artist, Rene Bouche chose a narrow field.  Within it he developed superbly and became a master… Eventually he became the master of social portraiture… the analysis sympathetic, but also quick, intuitive and penetrating."

Ironically, the art of fashion illustration itself died shortly thereafter, to be replaced by high-gloss photography in which the models themselves seem more important than the outfits they wear. Celebrity portraiture also changed, with full color "air brushing" often replacing pencil sketches and watercolors. Happily, much of the work of artists like Rene Bouche has been preserved, if only in libraries and magazine collections, and allows us to take an occasional peek back to what was, indeed, a more genteel time.


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Source materials include "Fashion Drawing in Vogue,"
by William Packer; published by Thames & Hudson, New York

Vogue artwork © by Conde Naste Publications, Ltd.
All rights reserved.

Original materials © Lucyfan Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.
"I Love Lucy" is copyrighted by and a registered trademark of CBS Worldwide, Inc.
Images of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz used with permission of Desilu, too, LLC.
Licensing by Unforgettable Licensing, Northbrook, Illinois.