Telluride Gallery of Fine Art: good bye to Bernie Fuchs

Telluride Gallery of Fine Art: good bye to Bernie Fuchs


Last June, the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art gave painter/illustrator Bernie Fuchs a 50-year retrospective exhibition to honor a great artist who owner Will Thompson felt was "sorely undervalued and overlooked." But when Bernie Fuchs passed away last Thursday, September 17, of cancer, both The New York Times and The Washington Post paid homage to the man whose work was familiar to nearly everyone in America through reproduction alone.

Over the years, Fuchs worked regularly and steadily for all the major automobile companies, publications from Sports Illustrated (25 years) to The New Yorker, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, and TV Guide, as well for advertising agencies and large corporations from Rolex to Citigroup. He also illustrated dozens of children’s books. Fuchs' illustrious clients have included political titans – JFK, Queen Elizabeth, Lyndon Johnson, the Reagans – and celebrities, among them: Frank Sinatra, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Sean Connery, and Pablo Cassals.


Bernie Fuchs lived the American Dream. His rags to riches story began in the small, Midwest town of O’Fallon, Illinois. By age six, Fuchs had determined to become a musician in Glenn Miller’s band. Had it not been for an industrial accident that cost him three fingers on his right hand he might have become a leading jazz trumpeter like his friend Jack Sheldon.  Instead, a tough love art teacher at Washington University School of Fine Art in St. Louis taught Fuchs how to draw holding the chalk with his remaining fingers. A prodigy, Fuchs wound up turning the field of commercial illustration on its head, becoming the youngest artist ever to be elected into the Illustrators Hall of Fame.


As an artist, Fuchs was often compared Norman Rockwell. However, apart from the fact that they are both illustrators, Fuchs is a modernist in realist’s clothes, more interested in abstract design and composition than in the representational narratives of his predecessors. At exactly the same time another art world superstar, Robert Rauschenberg, was wowing critics with his montages, Fuchs created a TV Guide cover – he is credited with 39 – using multiple images to tell his story. His innovative assemblages challenged the prevailing orthodoxy that illustration had to be a single image. Like the Baroque masters, Bernie Fuchs favored dynamic asymmetries.


Bernie Fuchs also stood shoulder to shoulder with the best painters of light, among them Rembrandt, Vermeer, J.W. Turner, and the Impressionists. His paintings are bathed in an amber glow so soft the light appears blown on. His colors shimmer like jewels. Like the best portrait artists, Fuchs managed to convey his subject’s inner life: his JFK for example is contemplative and vulnerable and no wonder – although it was still top secret, the Cuban missile crisis was about to break.

(editor's note: Susan covered Fuchs' art on several occasions when she was writing for the Telluride Daily Planet)

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