Joseph Christian Leyendecker (March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951) was one of the preeminent American illustrators of the early 20th century. He is best known for his poster, book and advertising illustrations, the trade character known as The Arrow Collar Man, and his numerous covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Between 1896 and 1950, Leyendecker painted more than 400 magazine covers. During the Golden Age of American Illustration, for The Saturday Evening Post alone, J. C. Leyendecker produced 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. Leyendecker “virtually invented the whole idea of modern magazine design.”
Joseph Christian Leyendecker (‘J. C.’ or ‘Joe’) was born on March 23, 1874, at Montabour in Southwest Germany, a tiny villiage on the Rhine, to Peter Leyendecker (1838–1916) and Elizabeth Oreseifen Leyendecker (1845–1905). Joseph was the first-born son, his brother Francis Xavier was born three years later. A sister, Augusta, the third and last child, arrived after the family emigrated to America.
In 1882, the Leyendecker family immigrated to Chicago, Illinois, where Elizabeth’s uncle had founded the successful McAvoy Brewing Company. After working in late adolescence for a Chicago engraving firm, J. Manz & Company, and completing his first commercial commission of 60 Bible illustrations for the Powers Brothers Company, J. C. sought formal artistic training at the school of the Chicago Art Institute.
After studying drawing and anatomy under John H. Vanderpoel at the Chicago Art Institute, J. C. and younger brother Frank enrolled in the Académie Julian in Paris for a year, where they were exposed to the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Chéret, and also Alphonse Mucha, a leader in the French Art Nouveau movement.
Leyendecker virtually invented the look of modern advertising. His drawings for Kuppenheimer, Arrow Shirt, Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post basically defined the look of America to the rest of the world in the early Twentieth Century. No less than Norman Rockwell looked to him as an inspiration.
I guess, given today’s weird political climate, I should mention he was also gay at a time when being so could be a problem. However, that doesn’t bear on his immense talent, so I won’t beat that particular drum. Enough that he was a giant in American art.
Enjoy three weeks of a quintessential artist!