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Joseph Christian Leyendecker
(Montabour, Germany, 1874 - 1951, New Rochelle, NY)
Biography from American Illustrators Gallery:
Joseph Christian Leyendecker developed as a major talent near the end of the nineteenth century and became the most sought after and in vogue illustrator of his day. He reached the peak of his fame and productivity in the 1930’s. Leyendecker was a keen student of self-promotion and quickly established an easily identifiable style. His career approach influenced the art of illustration and he became a mentor to an entire generation of younger artists, most notable among them Norman Rockwell, who began his own career by specifically emulating Leyendecker.
Between 1896 and 1950, J.C. Leyendecker painted more than four hundred magazine covers, of which three hundred and twenty-two covers were for the Saturday Evening Post alone. No other artist, until the arrival of Norman Rockwell, two decades later, was so solidly identified with one publication.
J. C. Leyendecker and his younger brother Francis Xavier Leyendecker, were born in Montabour, Germany, and moved to the USA in 1882. Joe and Frank (also an aspiring illustrator) studied in Paris at the famed Academie Julian, where they developed their artistic visions.
Joe Leyendecker’s renown grew from his ability to establish a specific and readily identifiable signature style. With his very wide, deliberate brush strokes, done with authority and control, he seldom overpainted, preferring to intrigue the viewer with the omissions as well as the parts included. His three most memorable creations, which live on to this day, were the iconic images of the Arrow Collar Man, the New Year’s Baby, and the first Mother’s Day cover created for the Post, a painting which single-handedly birthed the flower delivery industry.
In 1905, Leyendecker received his most important commercial art commission from Cluett, Peabody & Co. to advertise their Arrow brand of detachable shirt collars. Leyendecker created the ‘Arrow Collar Man,’ handsome, smartly dressed, the symbol of fashionable American manhood. Through his advertising illustrations, Leyendecker boosted sales for the company to over $32 million per year, and defined the ideal American male: a dignified, clear-eyed man of taste, manners and quality.
As the Saturday Evening Post’s most important cover artist of his day, J. C. Leyendecker illustrated all the holiday numbers, as well as many in-between. His Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas covers were annual events for the Post’s millions of readers.
Leyendecker gave us what is perhaps the most enduring New Year’s symbol that of the New Year’s Baby. For almost forty years, the Post featured a Leyendecker Baby on its New Year’s covers.
Leyendecker illustrated American heroes in both sports and on battlefields. He designed posters for the World War I and World War II efforts and in the process, inspired Americans to support our nation’s causes. His sports posters, painted often to promote Ivy League football, baseball and crew teams, were widely collected by college students. All through his career, his favorite model was his companion of fifty years, Charles A. Beach, a Canadian fan whom Leyendecker met in 1901, and immortalized as the ‘Arrow Collar Man.’
The broad range of J. C. Leyendecker’s career, including advertisements for The House of Kuppenheimer, Ivory Soap, and Kelloggs, as well as magazine covers for such publications as Collier’s and Success. In many ways, JC Leyendecker was the personification of The American Imagist, an illustrator whose images came to symbolize so much in our American civilization.
©2004 National Museum of American Illustration