René Bouché was an artist and fashion illustrator, known for his work in Vogue magazine and his social portraiture. Born Robert August Buchstein, 1905, in Austro-Hungarian Prague. By the age of 15, he was earning a living from illustration. At age 21, he studied art history at Munich University under the tutelage of Heinrich Wölfflin.
In 1927, he moved to Berlin and adopted the name René Robert Bouché. In the early 1930s, shortly after Hitler came to power, Bouché left for Paris. There he studied at Amédée Ozenfant’s atelier, l’Académie Ozenfant. From 1934, Bouché contributed drawings to the magazine Plaisir de France and advertising for Nestlé.
In 1938, Bouché began a long-lasting association with Condé Nast’s Vogue. Over the course of four decades, he would make significant contributions. While still in France, war broke out. Bouché joined the French army. After a brief period in a detention camp, and at the fall of France, Bouché left for the United State. He arrived in New York in 1941 and enlists in the army again. But as fate would have it, he was severely injured the night before he was scheduled to leave, thereupon was honourably discharged.
Now an American citizen, Bouché continued working for Vogue, in addition to illustrating advertising campaign for Saks Fifth Avenue and Elizabeth Arden. In 1944, he taught at the Art Students League, and in 1947, he taught illustration at Parsons School of Design in New York. By 1953, after having engrossed himself abstract expressionism, he wanted a new focus and turned to portraits.
At that time, he was already among the most successful advertising illustrators. His reputation as a portrait artist spread rapidly, even outside of the word of fashion, cause a great demand for his celebrity portraits. Bouché sketched many famous people including Sammy Davis Jr., John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Jean Kerr, and Mona von Bismarck. His portrait of Sophia Loren was used as the cover the April 1962 issue of TIME magazine.
Bouché’s style evolved throughout his career. Initially, he would place accurate monochrome drawings on his pages of Vouge. His work would slowly become more playful. Indulging abstract forms and vibrant colours. Less defined elements were skillfully blending into one another. He worked in pen and ink, crayon, then watercolours. And just two weeks before his death in 1963, he embarked on a new style. Charcoal drawings devoid of colour, much like his early work. But defiant of accuracy, like his expressionist period.
René Bouché died, age 57, in East Grinstead, England. In 1988, he was added to the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame.