Sunday, March 6, 2011

Illustrator Bernie Fuches

Bernie Fuches (1932-2009) belongs at the very end of the Golden Age of Illustration. Amazingly, he chose a career in art after having lost three fingers from his right hand in an industrial accident, and with no formal art training. In the 1950s, Fuches moved to Detroit and painted car ads for the auto industry. In the late 50s, he moved to Westport, Connecticut to be closer to New York, and from a serene studio there, began illustrating for magazines that included McCalls, Redbook and The Ladies Home Journal.

Curtis Baigent  |  SOMA DARLING  |  Click to enlarge
Fuches' style and compositions were fresh and different and by the age of 30, he was one of America's top illustrators.

General Motors
Throughout the 1960s, Fuches' work was closely associated with the style of McCalls magazine, and he had many imitators. But while his legion of imitators swelled, Bernie Fuches moved on, and his work evolved into a second style that's also associated with him.

Jack O'Grady Gallery
Two detail shots of this poster follow.

It appears to me that Fuches scrubbed on an under painting and then worked from dark to light and from shadows to highlights. Much of his later work has the textural appearance of batiks. 

Jack O'Grady Gallery
Sports Illustrated
Fuches was associated with Sports Illustrated for many years. This painting accompanied an article on Jackie Robinson.

Bernie Fuches was the youngest person elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. He painted portraits of presidents, designed U.S. postage stamps and illustrated children's books. Though he never fully retired, Fuches spent his last years working through the Jack O'Grady Gallery, where his work was sold as fine art.

from The Phantom Darkroom

The perpetually youthful Bernie Fuches died of cancer just two years ago. Reportedly, he was sketching on his deathbed.


  1. I love the first illustration. Actually, I love interior illustrations that show people inhabiting an interior space. There's something very Vuillard-esque about Fuches' rendering which appeals greatly to me.

  2. Hi, Buoni! I agree with you and only wish i could share a greatly enlarged detail of that first illustration. But if you look at various surfaces like the table top, far wall and lampshade, you'll see that Fuches achieved a rich realism using very flat applications of color and lots of abstract texture. It's a very refreshing combination.

  3. Mark, do you think that he might have done some illustrations for the Reader's Digest Condensed books that used to be available? I remember some of the books being illustrated in several of the styles you have shown here.

  4. Hi, David. Bernie Fuches worked for many magazine publications, and I'm sure his illustrations would have appeared in Reader's Digest.

  5. I've definitely seen his work before, but I didn't know his name. His work is terrific and I really like it, especially the top two images. The first one has a certain Norman Rockwell aesthetic, and a wholesome American look I admire. The car ad makes me remember how much romance and aspiration went into the merchandising of the 1950s and 1960s. It makes the ads of today look rather crass and lacking in charm, and not nearly as appealing as these. Thank you for making us aware of this gifted illustrator.

  6. Your mention of Norman Rockwell reminds me of his continuing reappraisal as more than an illustrator, and instead as a highly collectible fine artist. I have seen Rockwell's paintings at close range and been surprised how painterly - almost impressionistic - his details were, something that's completely lost when his work is reproduced. I'd be very interested to see a Fuches painting in person and at the same viewing range.

  7. Nice, so nice. I've seen his work reappraised elsewhere before but he's so worth it. Apart from the work's over all lushness I'm struck by is his dynamic and imaginative perspectives.

  8. Hi, Scott. Fuches had great compositions and, from photos I've seen of him in his studio, often worked on a very large scale.

    Stock images have been a real boon to today's advertisers, but one just doesn't see the same quality or richness. Fuches' paintings also indicate that he did a tremendous amount of research for each assignment.