WWII SOE Secret Agent and Fashion Illustrator


Since the rediscovery of Brian Stonehouse in the last five years and the publication of Fred Sharf’s biography, Brian Stonehouse: Artist, Soldier, War Hero, Fashion Illustrator, written to accompany the gift of his collection of Stonehouse’s work to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the artist’s drawings from his American Vogue years (1952-1962) have become increasing sought after and expensive. However, for those who are beginning to collect fashion illustrations we are happy to be able to offer wonderful work by him from the 1970s.

Gifted and professional, Stonehouse moved with the times, and while little of his work from the 1960s survived a studio fire, there is still enough from the 1970s to demonstrate how brilliantly he understood and interpreted changes in fashion.

The 1970s drawings below were exhibited in collaboration with MAZE Clothing, Green Street, Bath to celebrate Bath in Fashion 2016. Those not sold are available to view at Museum Street, but do please let us know that you are coming. Scroll down for more information on Brian Stonehouse and our previous exhibitions.


PART II: NEW YORK 1970-1978

6pm Thursday 29th October – Saturday 19th December 2015

While this Exhibition is no longer hanging, those works that have not yet sold can still be viewed at the gallery. But please do contact us before you make a trip here.

This, the second of our Brian Stonehouse Exhibitions (Part I is illustrated further down this page), is composed of fashion illustrations drawn in New York between 1970 and 1978. The first Exhibition celebrated his employment at American Vogue between 1952-1962 as a protégé of the editor Jessica Daves who believed that Fashion’s story was best told by a mix of fashion illustration and photography. Under her radical successor, Diana Vreeland, fashion illustration was largely replaced by photography. Stonehouse’s time at the magazine had familiarised him with the world of advertising and marketing – essential to his illustrations had been a very practical understanding of Fashion as Product – and such was his reputation that he continued to get advertising commissions, particularly from department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, and from Elizabeth Arden. Due to a studio fire few of his drawings from the Sixties survive however the drawings in this Exhibition show that by the Seventies his style had developed from the Frenchified, painterly look of the Fifties to something far leaner and more graphic, in line with fashion illustrators such as Kenneth Block and ‘Antonio’. Stonehouse maintained his Upper East Side studio for the portrait practice he had developed amongst the glamorous social circle of his American Vogue years. He also drew at the Society of Illustrators where he was provided with models and kept in close touch with developments in the illustration world.

Stonehouse, the WWII Special Operations Executive Wireless Operator

     StonehouseOf the many European émigrés to make a mark on the post-war New York fashion world, most of whom had dramatic stories of survival and escape, Stonehouse’s was considered by General Eisenhower as ‘one of the most amazing experiences of the war’. As a politically aware young art student in the late Thirties and fluent French speaker he was wasted in the Royal Artillery and recommended for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) early in 1942. Founded in July 1940 the SOE was an elite group of men and women trained to infiltrate Nazi Europe and coordinate sabotage of the German War Effort from within. Disguised as a French art student, a B2 suitcase radio concealed within his artist’s box, he survived four hair-raising months transmitting from inside occupied France before being arrested by the Vichy French and the Gestapo. There followed two and a half years of torture, solitary confinement, a death sentence and slave labour in the Fresne prison and then the four Concentration Camps of Saarbrüchen (Neue Bremm), Mauthausen (Wiener Neudorf), Struthof-Natzweiler and, from September 1944 to April 1945, Dachau. Contemporaries record him as an inspirational figure, and as a Survivor who managed to retain the respect and admiration of those with whom he was incarcerated.  The Imperial War Museum and Dachau Museum hold the drawings he made of Dachau and at the War Crimes Tribunals. It was at the preparation for the Trials that he met Harry Haller, the socialite American Major who was to support his move the USA in 1946 and his new career as an artist and fashion illustrator.

We are grateful to the artist’s Estate for allowing us access to War Script, Brian Stonehouse’s written account of his War experiences. A copy is available to read at the gallery, on request.

Stonehouse, the Fashion Illustrator

     Stonehouse had studied fashion illustration at Ipswich School of Art in the Thirties and also showed a talent for portraiture. The portraits of the German guards and their wives that he was ordered to draw while at Mauthausen had, bizarrely, helped to save his life. Harry Haller saw that these skills, combined with his Wartime celebrity and charm and Haller’s social connections might help establish him as a society portrait painter. The timing of his arrival in the States was fortuitous; interest in fashion was strong after the drab war years and fashion illustration was still an essential part of magazine coverage. Jessica Daves believed, correctly, that his stylish portraits of celebrities such as Tallulah Bankhead suggested an artist who might move into fashion illustration and in 1952 he became the first illustrator to be taken on by American Vogue since 1939. His time there coincided exactly with that of Daves as Editor-in-Chief, until 1962, and he became expert, with ‘Eric’ (Carl Erickson 1891-1958) and Rene Bouché (1905-1963), the American Vogue illustrator stars, at conveying both the glamorous, couture look of the time and the emerging world of leisure wear.

The extraordinary story of Stonehouse’s War has been written by Fred Sharf in Brian Stonehouse – Artist, Soldier, War Hero, Fashion Illustrator (see below) and is also the subject of a forthcoming, full biography. This Exhibition continues the celebration of how a young fashion illustration student of the Thirties survived the horrors of WWII to realize, in a way that would have been unimaginable to his younger self, a career at American Vogue during the Fifties which he was able to sustain throughout changes of fashion until his return to England, and portraiture, in 1979.


Brian Stonehouse: Artist, Soldier, War Hero, Fashion Illustrator
by Frederic A. Sharf, with Michelle Finamore, Curator of Fashion Arts, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf collection of Brian Stonehouse works is held.

A digital copy of this book is made available below by kind permission of the author Mr Frederic A. Sharf. Hover over the cover and use the arrows to browse on this page, or click the book to enlarge and read. ‘Esc’ will return you to this screen. Each purchase from our Exhibitions will also be accompanied by a hard copy of the book.


All the drawings in this Exhibition come from the
Estate of the artist and are stamped on the reverse ‘Stonehouse Estate / A and H’

NOTE: Nothing will be sold before the exhibition opens at 6pm on Thursday 29th October


November 13th – December 23rd 2014

All the drawings in this Exhibition come from the
Estate of the artist and are stamped on the reverse ‘Stonehouse Estate / A and H’