J. C. Leyendecker was a talented and personable 20th century American artist, best known for creating over 300 covers for Saturday Evening Post.
Joseph Christian Leyendecker was born in 1874 in Montabaur, Germany. He emigrated to America with his parents and younger brother, Frank, in 1882. The artistic talents of both Leyendecker sons were nurtured by their parents. At age 16, Joe Leyendecker got his first job at J. Manz & Co., a Chicago engraving house, and after work he studied at the Chicago Art Institute. In August, 1896, Joe Leyendecker received national recognition when he won a Century Magazine cover competition for an illustration of a young lady carrying flowers in her skirt. (The second place winner was Maxfield Parrish!)
In the autumn of 1896 the Leyendecker brothers had saved enough money to attend the Academie Julian in Paris. They were considered the most talented members of their class. When they returned two years later they were both thoroughly trained artists who had no difficulty in obtaining top assignments for advertising illustrations and cover designs. (Although he had great talent, Frank did not meet with Joe's success. Some art historians say it was because he had difficulty completing assignments. Sadly, Frank Leyendecker died of an overdose in 1924.)
In 1899 Joe produced his first Saturday Evening Post cover; he would produce 324 covers for this magazine alone during the next 44 years. His cover for the first issue of 1906 was a winged cherub that was the predecessor of the New Year's Baby, an American tradition that continues even today.
Other magazine covers by Joe appeared on issues of Inland Printer, (1896-1897); Collier's, (1904-1918); Literary Digest (1907-1909, 1918, 1935 and 1936); and Success, (1901-1908).
In 1905, advertising art by Leyendecker created an American advertising icon. The Arrow Collar Man was the male equivalent of the Gibson Girl. Women swooned and wrote thousands of love letters to the handsome young men chosen as models for these ads. Charles Beach, the first model, remained Leyendecker's companion for fifty years.
Other companies clamored for his work. He also did advertising art for Kuppenheimer Men's Suits, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Cooper Hosiery, Pierce Arrow, and Overland Auto. His financial success in advertising art allowed him to build a large home in New Rochelle, New York, in 1914.
After 1943, when he was sixty-nine, the Post abruptly ceased using his work. He was shocked! He remembered how hard he had worked on each cover, and felt that he was still popular. Also, he would have liked some security at his age. It was difficult for him to accept that the editor felt his work was wooden and repetitive. New assignments included World War II posters and covers for a Hearst newspaper Sunday supplement called The American Weekly. Leyendecker was frustrated because the quality of his work did not reproduce well on newsprint. He did not exert a lot of effort for these covers; many were Post covers with minor revisions. In 1951, while working on a Weekly cover, Leyendecker died of a heart attack at age 77.
Shortly after his death, his sister and his lifelong companion, George Beach, sold many of his possessions, including original art, at a yard sale!
A quote by Norman Rockwell expresses his feelings about J.C. Leyendecker.
"I began working for The Saturday Evening Post in 1916 and Leyendecker was my god. I actually used to, unbeknownst him, follow him down the streets of New Rochelle just to be close by him. I didn't meet him until perhaps around 1914, but he was a wonderful man personally, as well as a great artist. He was a superb draftsman, and a fine colorist, and had an amazingly creative mind. In any history of American illustration, he will certainly hold a most important place."