Saturday, August 24, 2013


Last week after finishing up my working on the blog and my daily art tasks, I rewarded myself with a trip to my favorite bookstore,The Iliad, to search for some new mystery books to read. While there I saw behind the counter  the edition of the Gruau book that I used for many of the images printed here and casually asked about the price. "If it's in that cabinet, then it's at least $300." I remember buying it for $75 and thinking it was pricey, but well worth it. I guess I'm a wise investor.

Gruau had a long career, spanning 70+ years. He and Eric (Carl Erickson) were arguably the greatest fashion illustrators of the twentieth century. As such he was a major influence on a number of artists, particularly those in illustration and advertising as his work improved and evolved over years. While he might not have been a primary influence on  the artists mentioned below, you can certainly see the changes that occurred in their own work, whether through the influence of the contemporary styles or through there own familiarity with Gruau.

I asked Bob McGinnis about this, and while he mentioned Gruau as certainly someone he was looking at and aware of, his own favorite fashion illustrator was Todd Draz. And when you look at Draz, you can see the similarities to Gruau. When I started out in comics, my heroes were Kubert, Starr, Toth, and Wood. As I matured, I discovered Robert Fawcett, and found that he was a major influence on all of them.

(A Gruau design from the 50's and below a R.M. McGinnis paperback cover from the 60's)

(The drawing above and below by Todd Draz.)

One of the illustrators who's style changed dramatically over his career is Al Parker. Very much a student of the painterly style in the 40's, you can see his work developing into a far more graphic style in the late 50's and beyond.

(Here is one of Parker's earlier works and below the simplified styles used in the 60's and 70's.)

Coby Whitmore never seemed to leave behind the wonderful painterly approach he took with figures, but his compositions and settings certainly were simplified in that same period. Jon Whitcomb went through a similar transformation, but less extreme. 
(A Jon Whitcolb illustration above, and three Coby Whitmore pieces below, the latter two done in a far more graphic style.)

Bob Peak seems to be the most dramatically influenced by the change in fashion illustration, which was his own background. Peak brought a graphic sensibility to his advertising and illustration work that set the standard for the time.

(Since they both worked in the field of fashion illustration the similarities are much easier to see between Gruau's work, above, and Bob Peak's illustrations below.)

You certainly can't exclude Jean Giraud from this discussion. He was certainly tuned into his fellow adopted countryman.

(Gruau above and Moebius (Jean Giraud) below.)

The current leader in fashion illustration is of course, David Downton. Below are a few of the absolutely scrumptious drawings he did of Dita Von Teese. Both the freshness and spontaneity of the work and the fact that he doesn't create these digitally makes me a major fan. You might want to check out Downton's book, Masters of Fashion Illustration, for your library.

So what is it I admire about Gruau? His simplicity, his spontaneity, the drama in his compositions, his starkness of color, the elegance, and the purity of his line drawings and figures. When I look at the work it always leaves me in awe, and at the same time inspires to improve my own chicken scratches

(And one last Gruau for good measure.)

Saturday, August 17, 2013


A few years ago I was working at an ad agency one day when one of the owners came by with a book that I immediately asked him to look at. It was an oversized portfolio featuring drawings of a fashion illustrator named Rene Gruau. I'm not sure how much work I got done in the next hour because I was absolutely astounded by the artist's work. I immediately picked up the very expensive volume to be part of my library and began tracking down whatever else I could find on Gruau.

I also began asking my other artists friends if they were aware of the illustrator. Most of the folks had strangely enough never heard of him...with the exception of Howard Chaykin who announced he had several books on Gruau. Made sense. Once you have become familiar with him you can't help but be amazed by the man's ability.

Born in 1909 in Rimini on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, his father was Count Zavagli-Riccidelli delle Caminate. His parents separated when Rene was three, and at 14 his inheritance was embezzled by the trustee of the estate. While drawing had always been his pastime, he had planned to become an architect, but upon the advice of his friend Vera, the Italian fashion writer,  he turned to fashion illustration as a way to make a living.

Once he started getting work, he convinced his mother to move to Paris where they escaped the fascism of Mussolini in Italy. It was at this time that he met Christan Dior with whom he began a lifelong collaboration.

His major influences was Toulouse Lautrec,Degas, the Italian poster artist Capiell, Rene Driant and Japanese prints.

(A poster by Capiello above and one by Toulouse Lautrec.)

In the 30's Gruau was extremely successful and continued to work exclusively in Paris. However, with the onset of the Nazi occupation, he moved to the Riviera, where his life was virtually undisturbed during the war. By 1947 he was back in Paris and was teamed with Dior, who remained his major client well into the l970's. In l948 he went to NYC to work, and eventually onto the west coast to Hollywood. However, he found the "dream factory" a bit too much of a factory for his tastes and left without ever taking on any major projects.

He was as much a virtuoso working in advertising as in fashion. His process was described by biographer Francois Baudot as:" ...he would sometime repeatedly rework a drawing, being highly exacting in his judgment of each line. Each sketch generally required the presence of a posing model. Gruau drew first from life: first fanciful sketches, then grouping, and then making the lines firmer- a complex process that sometimes entailed a series of eighty sketches. A far cry from the quintessential apparent simplicity."

Rene Gruau died in 2004 at the age of 95, continuing to work up until his death. While by this time the world of fashion illustration had passed on (forgive me David Downton) the illustrations of Gruau still remain alive and fresh.

Next week: In the second part of this post I'll be showing some examples of the artists the Gruau influenced over his lengthy career, and of course more of the wonderful drawings of G*.