In today’s media culture, it’s hard to imagine recording the aftermath of a war with pen and ink drawings.
That’s exactly what fashion illustrator René Bouché did.
Commissioned by Vogue to cover the first post-World War II couture shows in Paris, Bouché found a different world on the streets: people standing in line for bread rations, riding bicycles, flirting in cafés and dealing with paperwork.
“René Bouché: Letters from Post-War Paris” is on display at the Legion of Honor and includes more than 50 drawings. The works were a gift from Denise Fitch, a trustee of the Fine Arts Museums who met Bouché while working as a Vogue editor and later married him.
The exhibition is contained in a side gallery near the entrance to “Man Ray/Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism.” Bouché knew Miller, whose photographs also appeared in Vogue.
Bouché’s drawings are impressive — deeply thoughtful and quickly rendered. Each one captures the energy and effort required of Parisians to rebuild their lives after the war.
His exquisite illustrations of daily life — a woman sitting beside a bag of baguettes, the bombed remains of a building — seem to say more than a glossy photograph might reveal.
Thankfully, Bouché’s keen observations also accompany his work. Some of the typewritten copy is hard to read, and it’s a pity the show doesn’t include larger versions with clearer type.
Among the highlights is a drawing of a woman riding a bicycle titled “La Parisienne 1945.” The colors are subtle, save for the vibrant red satchel slung across her shoulder. The bicycle is drawn in a few swift strokes, enhancing a feeling of motion with a purpose. This is a woman going somewhere.
In his writings, Bouché said the first weeks following the reopening of the Louvre Museum “gave the most reassuring confirmation of the cultural vitality of the French people.”
“There the requirements were not to have much new money to buy new pictures for new apartments, neither to have new relations or to show off, ‘to be part of the crowd.’ The requirements were taste and hunger for good art.”
Excerpts from Bouché’s letters and a selection of drawings were published in Vogue in late 1945. Although he intended to compile them in a book to be titled “The Morning After,” he never did.
Bouché died of a heart attack in 1963. He was 57.
IF YOU GO
René Bouché: Letters From Post-War Paris
Where: Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave., S.F.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closed Mondays; show closes Oct. 14
Admission: $6 to $10, free for children 12 and under
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.legionofhonor.org