Joseph Christian Leyendecker developed as a major talent near the turn of the twentieth century and became the most in vogue American illustrator of his day. JC Leyendecker was a keen student of self-promotion and quickly established an easily identifiable style, reaching the peak of his fame and productivity in the 1930's. Leyendecker's approach to his career influenced the art of illustration and he became mentor to an entire generation of younger artists, most notably Norman Rockwell, who began his career by specifically emulating Leyendecker.
Between 1896 and 1950, JC Leyendecker painted more than four hundred magazine covers. During "The Golden Age of American Illustration", the Saturday Evening Post alone commissioned JC Leyendecker to produce 322 covers as well as many advertisement illustrations for its interior pages. No other artist, until the arrival of Norman Rockwell two decades later, was so solidly identified with one publication.
JC Leyendecker and his younger brother Francis Xavier Leyendecker (FX), were born in Montabour, Germany, and moved to America in 1882. Joe and Frank (also an aspiring illustrator) studied in Paris at the 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 very wide, deliberate strokes done with authority and control, he seldom overpainted, preferring to interest the viewer with the omissions as well as parts included.
His three most memorable creations, which live on to this day, were the iconic images of the Arrow Collar Man advertisements, the New Year’s Baby, and the first Mother’s Day magazine cover created for the Post. The May 30, 1914 Post Mother's Day cover single-handedly birthed the flower delivery industry, and it created an American tradition.
In 1905, Leyendecker received what became his most important commercial art commission when he was hired by Cluett, Peabody & Co. to advertise their Arrow detachable shirt collars. Leyendecker created the ‘Arrow Collar Man,’ handsome and smartly dressed; he became the symbol of fashionable American manhood and the first brand in advertising. Through his ads, 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, JC 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 World War I and World War II efforts and in the process, inspired Americans to support the cause. 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 50 years, Charles A. Beach. Beach was a Canadian fan whom Leyendecker met in 1901, and immortalized as the ‘Arrow Collar Man.’
The broad range of JC Leyendecker’s career included advertisements for The House of Kuppenheimer, Ivory Soap, and Kelloggs, as well as magazine covers for such publications as Collier’s and Success. He greatly influenced the art of illustration, and positioned himself as a mentor to a younger generation of illustrators, most notably Norman Rockwell. 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.