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 Joseph Christian Leyendecker  (1874 - 1951)

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Lived/Active: New York / Germany      Known for: illustration, figure, genre, animal painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Joseph Leyendecker
Facts/Data
Birth
1874 (Montabaur, Germany)
 
Death
1951 (New Rochelle, New York)

Lived/Active
New York / Germany


Photograph of Joseph Christian Leyendecker


Often Known For
illustration, figure, genre, animal painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Montabaur, Germany, Joseph Leyendecker became a noted American illustrator and graphic designer who, between 1896 and 1950, painted more than four-hundred magazine covers, most of them of an idealized America and 321 for Saturday Evening Post.  He particularly hit his stride in the 1930s.

For Arrow Collar he designed ads that laid the foundation for selling lifestyle with product.  It is said that his technical skill was beyond reproach, he worked amazingly fast, and that his draughtsmanship was perfect.  Norman Rockwell began his career as an imitator of Leyendecker.

Leyendecker came to Chicago with his Catholic family at age eight.  He apprenticed to a printer, J. Manz and Co., and then studied with John Vanderpoel at the Chicago Art Institute.  In 1896, he won the Century magazine cover competition, which essentially launched him professionally.  Two years later, he went to Paris to the Academie Julian with his brother, Francis Xavier, and they learned the "hachure" method of drawing whereby blended shading was not allowed.  It was a time when poster art was very popular, and when he returned to America, he applied these new methods to their commercial ventures.

With a secret recipe combining oil and turpentine, he and his brother, Frank, perfected a cross-hatch method of working in oil paint that gave the speed of pencil and the visual impact of color without the brush going dry.  Many other artists were jealous of this method which allowed the brothers to work more quickly than their peers.

He was exceedingly shy, spoke with a stutter, and was a homosexual in an era where he would have been ruined professionally if it had been widely known.  He lived as a recluse and drove himself very hard, something that began when he and his brother had decided to try to outdo each other in productivity.   They made great amounts of money and built themselves a mansion in New Rochelle with separate quarters for each of their studios.  The place had a large staff and elaborate landscaping, but they competed so heatedly with each other that eventually the brothers split and Frank died at age forty six from suicide involving drugs and depression.

J.C. landed the Kuppenheimer Clothes and Arrow Collar accounts, which fit his interest in fashion advertising, and for over twenty years he worked for them on big budgets.  For Arrow, instead of focusing on the clothes, he drew the attention of the viewer to the face of the man wearing the shirt, and these men were clean shaven, preppy and handsome.  One of the models, Charles Beach, became J.C.'s companion, agent, and publicist from 1903 to the end of J.C.'s life.  In 1923, he wanted to marry a woman who had posed for him, but Charles threatened to expose his homosexuality and J.C. pulled back.

The Arrow Shirt illustrations ended with the Depression.  Simultaneous to them had been his Saturday Evening Post covers, and he became that magazines top cover artist.

He did not use photographs but always employed models.  In contrast to Rockwell who focused on the personality of his subjects, Leyendecker did figures that were personages symbolic of something rather than human beings facing real-life situations.

Throughout his life he worked hard, but when he died in 1951, he left no savings and only part of a divided estate to Beach who had to resort to selling Leyendecker's sketches for money.  People bought them because they were in awe of the illustrator's mastery, and from May to November, 1997, a special exhibition of those sketches was held at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.


Sources:
Roger Reed, "J.C. Leyendecker: A Retrospective", American Art Review, December 1997, p. 128
Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following comments are from Michael J. Murphy:

I'm not sure it's appropriate to say that J. C. Leyendecker 'landed' the Arrow Collar account or that he 'designed' the ads.  The ads were collaboratively generated by Charles Connolly of the Cluett, Peabody company, which made Arrow Collars and Shirts, and Tom Ford, art director of the Calkins and Holden advertising agency of NYC.  Apparently Connolly was familiar with Leyendecker's work from his experience as editor of the Chicago men's apparel trade paper The Haberdasher, in which he would have seen Leyendecker's ads for the Chicago suit maker Hartt, Schaffner and Marx--another Calkins and Holden client.

Both Connolly, and Calkins and Holden were familiar with Leyendecker's work before the Arrow Collar campaign, and it is unknown who contacted him, although Cluett, Peabody claims Connolly solicited Leyendecker in his NYC studio.  Further, Leyendecker provided oil paintings to be used in Arrow Collar ads, but he did NOT design the ads--that was done by a creative team at Calkins and Holden and sometimes by Cluett, Peabody's in-house advertising dept.  Many of Leyendecker's paintings for Arrow Collar ads were drastically altered without his permission to meet the requirements of various forms of commercial publicity.






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,

Biography from The Haggin Museum:
Born in Germany, Leyendecker and his family came to Chicago in 1882.  Young Leyendecker was apprenticed at the age of 16 to the engraving house of J. Manz & Company.  He advanced to a full-time staff artist and furthered his artistic training at the Chicago Art Institute.  It was during this time that Leyendecker produced his first commercial work, including 60 images for an illustrated edition of The Bible published by Manz.

In 1896 he and his brother Frank (1878-1924) left for Paris where they both were enrolled at the Académie Julian under the tutelage of Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) and Benjamin Constant (1845-1902). While immersed in the neo-classical training of the Académie, the Leyendecker brothers also became familiar with the popular advertising posters by artists such as Jules Cherêt (1836-1932), Alphonse Mucha (1860- 1939) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).

Upon their return to Chicago in 1897, the brothers set up a studio in the Chicago Stock Exchange.  It was here that J.C. began his association with both Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post, painting a total of 48 covers for the former magazine and 322 for the latter.  During his 43 year association with the Post, Leyendecker helped define the modern magazine cover as a unique art form – a miniposter whose design rapidly communicated its message.  His covers were animated by people and themes that resonated with his audience because of his ability to capture and convey a range of human emotions and situations in his hallmark style of wide, crisp, and controlled brushstrokes accented by bold highlights.

The Leyendecker brothers moved to New York City in 1900 and it was here that J.C. secured the menswear commissions that gained him his greatest fame.  The stylishly dressed and strikingly handsome men that he created for Arrow Collars and Shirts from 1905 through 1930 established the beau ideal for the sartorially savvy American male.  Soon the chiseled good looks of Leyendecker’s men were also helping to sell suits for The House of Kuppenheimer, socks for the Interwoven Stocking Company, and “long johns” for the Cooper Underwear Company—the precursor to Jockey International, Inc.

Men’s fashion was probably the most significant aspect of Leyendecker’s advertising opus, but his artwork was also used to promote a host of other products, including soap, automobiles, and cigarettes.  And starting in 1912, he captured the hearts of American mothers through his series of cherubic infants, winsome children and wholesome adolescents enjoying bowls of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.  The success the Leyendecker brothers had achieved in the decade since leaving Chicago allowed them to move once again, this time to New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City.  It also was a community that a number of artists had come to call home, including Frederic Remington (1861-1909), Edward Penfield (1866-1925), Orson Lowell (1871-1956), Dean Cornwell (1892-1960) and Norman Rockwell.  The Leyendeckers built themselves a 14-room mansion with separate studios and a magnificent garden.  Their sister, Augusta (c.1875-1957), also lived with them, as did Charles Beach (1886-1952).  Beach was the original Arrow Collar model and had become J.C.’s assistant, business agent and companion—a relationship that lasted for almost 50 years.

When the United States entered the First World War in 1917, Leyendecker joined his fellow illustrators such as Howard Chandler Christie (1872-1952), James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) and Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) in creating posters in support of the nation’s war effort.  Their dramatic images were used to promote the purchase of war bonds, urge young men to enlist and the general public to conserve resources needed by the military.

After years of mounting tension within the New Rochelle mansion, Frank and Augusta moved out in 1923.  The following year Frank passed away at the age of 47.  Although his brother’s death greatly affected him, Leyendecker’s commercial success only increased.  The Great Depression cost him his menswear clients, but he still did over 90 covers for the Saturday Evening Post in the ten years following the stock market crash in 1929.

By the end of the 1930s, however, the demand for Leyendecker’s imagery had waned and shortly after America entered the Second World War he did his last cover for the Saturday Evening Post.  Some war bond poster work, calendar commissions and covers for William Randolph Hearst’s The American Weekly kept him solvent.

On July 25, 1951 Joseph Christian Leyendecker suffered a heart attack and died at his home.  Beach and Augusta inherited what was left of the artist’s estate, including a great number of his original canvases.  Many of these were sold by Beach at an auction on the grounds of the New Rochelle property.  Among the pallbearer’s at Leyendecker’s funeral was Norman Rockwell, who by this time had become the Saturday Evening Post’s premier cover artist and was well on his way to becoming America’s favorite illustrator.  J.C. Leyendecker, once this nation’s most successful commercial artist, was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

History of The Haggin Museum's Leyendecker Collection

In 1951, the year J.C. Leyendecker passed away, The Haggin Museum was celebrating its 20th anniversary and its director was Earl Rowland (1890-1963). Before coming to the Haggin in 1936, Rowland had been a well-known California artist and taught at Stockton’s College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific).  He had long been an admirer of the artists of the “Golden Age of American Illustration”, many of whom—like Leyendecker—had faded into relative obscurity by the late 1940s.

Wishing to add paintings by such artists to the museum’s permanent collection but having no acquisition budget, Rowland began to solicit illustrators’ original works as gifts to the museum.  During the 26 years he was the museum’s Director, Rowland added the works of Charles Dana Gibson, Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966), Orson Lowell, Violet Oakley (1874-1961) and other noted illustrators to the Haggin’s collection.

His greatest success in this endeavor, however, was the collection of nearly 60 original Leyendecker canvases he assembled between 1952 and 1959.  Donors included some of the companies for whom Leyendecker had worked, as well as individuals, including the artist’s sister, Augusta Leyendecker.  Rowland’s love of Leyendecker’s work led him to assemble the largest collection of the artist’s work held by any museum; his respect for the man led him to secure a headstone for the artist’s grave.

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