The Imaginative Art of René Bull
by Gordon Howsden
by Gordon Howsden
Perhaps René Bull's background had something to do with the fact that, in an age that spawned a host of innovative illustrators, he shone both as a cartoonist and as a gifted illustrator. Born in Dublin on 11 December 1872, his father was English and his mother French. The diverse cultures which he inherited and experienced as a youngster must have contributed to his quickwittedness, flair and spirit of adventure.
René seemed destined for a career in engineering and was sent to Paris to further his studies. A relative was on the staff of the team working on the building of the Suez Canal and René had the opportunity to be involved but, fortunately, he had made the acquaintance of the brilliant French cartoonist and draughtsman, Caran D'Ache, and opted to become an artist instead.
Returning to Ireland, Bull had some cartoons published in local journals before heading for London where he was employed drawing strip cartoons for the recently launched magazine, Pick-Me-Up. Other magazines were soon benefitting from his work but the opportunity presented itself in 1896 to join the staff of Black and White as a 'special reporter' travelling to, and reporting back from, the world's trouble spots. René eagerly accepted this challenging task.
Frequently under fire and suffering the hardships of life in the front line, Bull's reports were avidly read by an eager public at home. One of his graphic sketches for Black and White was used by Pat Hodgson for the dust wrapper of his book The War Illustrators (Osprey Publishing, 1977). Bull's reports and photographs from Africa were published by Black and White in 1899 and, proving to be an excellent raconteur, he also conducted a series of popular lectures on his return to the UK.
It is, however, book illustration for which René Bull is best remembered today. His first commissions were relatively modest and included sharing illustrations for La Fontaine's Fables with Carton Moore Park and Uncle Remus with Harry Rountree. Together with several of his London Sketch Club colleagues, Bull also contributed to The Stock Exchange Christmas Annual 1905-6.
Between the wars, Bull illustrated a handful of titles including a version of Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen and a reprint of the ever-popular Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. He also contributed to various children's annuals published by Blackie. However, his most iconic work was reserved for one of his commercial clients, W A & A C Churchman, who used Bull's designs on two very colourful series of cigarette cards.
Apart from his artistic talents, René Bull was a great enthusiast of model railways and was able to construct his own working locomotives . I have found no reports that Bull ever married which might explain why he was able to construct a series of tracks which ran round the dining room of his flat in Baron's Court, London. René Bull died on 13 April 1942.
Books by René Bull
Black and White War Albums - Snapshots by René Bull. London, Black & White Printing & Publishing Co, 1899.
A Day of My Life on Board the Aberdeen Line T.S.S. Themistocles. London, Howard Jones, c.1911.
Books Illustrated by René Bull
Fate's Intruder by F A Savile & A E T Watson. London, William Heinemann, 1905.
La Fontaine's Fables, A Selection translated by Edward Shirley; illus. with Carton Moore Park. London, Thomas Nelson, 1905.
Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris; illus. with Harry Rountree. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons 1906.
The Arabian Nights. London. Constable & Co, 1912.
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward Fitzgerald. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1913.
The Russian Ballet by A E Johnson. London, Constable & Co, 1913.
Carmen by Prosper Merimee, translated by A. E. Johnson. London, Hutchinson & Co, 1916.
The Old Man of the Mountain by Herbert Strang. London, Henry Frowde; Hodder & Stoughton, 1916.
A Garland of Rose's: collected Poems by Rose Fyleman. London, Methuen & Co, 1928.
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. London, Wells Gardner, Darton & Co, 1928.
Selections of Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen. London, William Clowes and Sons, Ltd, 1930.
Two Legs and Four by Anthony Armstrong. London, Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1930.
Brer Rabbit Plays by Elizabeth Fleming. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1936.
Books, Annuals etc Containing Illustrations by René Bull
The Stock Exchange Christmas Annual 1905-6 by W A Morgan. Enfield, F Wetherman, 1905.
Blackie's Children's Annual (various editions) London & Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1925-1929.
Zoo Friends. London & Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1939.