René Gruau (Covignano 1909 - Rome 2004)

The Hunting Jacket Sold

Red gouache, brush and black ink, over traces of an underdrawing in pencil.
Signed with the artist’s initial *G at the lower centre.
460 x 362 mm. (18 1/8 x 14 1/4 in.)


Even within the seemingly free-spirited world of fashion illustration, René Gruau was known as an exacting draughtsman: ‘The idea for a drawing comes very gradually. You have to do a lot of sketches. It’s like a sneeze – it either happens or it doesn’t. Sometimes you just have to leave it alone and come back to it a few days later. The hardest thing is to do a very plain drawing. The perfect line, drawn in a single movement – but you have to work very hard before you’re ready. It may seem simple but it’s not. It takes an enormous amount of work that no one sees…Sometimes it doesn’t happen. I try. I put the drawing aside, I rip it up, I wait. It’s no good unless I’m completely satisfied. I make a preliminary drawing in charcoal or pencil. Then when I’m ready, I use gouache or acrylics or Indian ink.’ He added that, ‘When I do a drawing, I need a live model that I can have move around as much as I need to. I can’t work from a photo. I need to feel the presence of a person. If there’s no human raw material, the drawing has less personality.’

This drawing was commissioned from Gruau by the influential fashion editor Fleur Cowles (1908-2009). Cowles employed Gruau to produce a large number of drawings for the magazine Flair, which she created in 1950. As she later recalled of Flair’s approach to the world of fashion, ‘The French and American couture had fascinating treatment, especially by France’s René Gruau, who I brought to America, a painter considered by many to be a modern Toulouse-Lautrec. His women are real, superbly but recognizably so (as women hope to see themselves).’

The inaugural issue of Flair, published in February 1950, included a small booklet introducing Gruau’s work as a fashion illustrator to its American audience. In this sixteen-page insert, it was noted that, ‘The great fashion artist, like Gruau, becomes a force that extends far beyond his own field of illustration...FLAIR believes that Gruau has come of age in a time ideally suited to his talents. His continued growth as a serious painter has given him a sureness of technic [sic], a wideness of range, a subtlety of perception, that is now unrivalled. His innate sense of elegance is Parisian, but the Gruau woman is drawn by a man who has lived in many countries, who has watched her stand out with unstudied effectiveness against any background. Obviously, the artist likes and admires her. She is vibrantly contemporary, with a mind of her own, a hundred varied interests, and a magnificent adaptability to whatever world she moves in. She finds it a complete joy to be a woman. She never pretends to be above fashion, indeed revels in it as her birthright, but her inner security prevails: fashion is never imposed on her, she never submits to the stupidly commonplace or extravagant. FLAIR enormously admires this Gruau woman, confident that she will assume an importance far beyond her place in fashion. An ideal of beauty in our time, she will become part of an invaluable record for the future critic and historian.’

Commissioned from the artist by Fleur Cowles, New York, London and Sussex.


The Hunting Jacket


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