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Joseph Christian Leyendecker
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Montabaur, Germany
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New Rochelle, N.Y.
One of America’s leading illustrators during the first half of the 20th century, Joseph Christian Leyendecker was famous for his magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and other magazines and for his advertising art for Arrow Collars, Kellogg Corn Flakes and a variety of other products. Born in Montabaur, Germany in 1874, he immigrated to Chicago with his family in 1882. Educated in the Chicago public schools, Leyendecker showed a talent for drawing at an early age. After completing 8th grade, he joined Chicago’s Jacob Manz Engraving Company in 1889 as an unpaid apprentice, where he learned commercial etching and engraving, and was soon promoted to staff illustrator, a paying job. Later that year he enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied under John Henry Vanderpoel (1857-1911). Leyendecker developed a thriving illustration practice, including about 60 illustrations for an edition of the Bible published by Manz in 1894 and a frontispiece for The Inland Printer, a Chicago printing industry trade journal. Leyendecker got wide attention when he won Century magazine’s national contest to design the cover for its August, 1896 issue. With the encouragement of Vanderpoel, Leyendecker and his younger brother Frank (1878-1924) decided to study art in Paris at the Académie Julian, the school run by the noted artist and educator William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), where they enrolled in 1896. Their instructors included Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant (1845-1902), Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) and Jules Joseph LeFebvre (1836-1912). Both brothers won monthly prizes for their work. They also studied at the Académie Colarossi, where Leyendecker became friends with the artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), who taught there. While in Paris, Leyendecker received a commission from The Inland Printer for 12 covers and had a solo exhibition at the Salon Champs du Mars (1897). The brothers returned to Chicago in 1897, rented a studio together and enjoyed success as commercial illustrators. Leyendecker began his series of cover illustrations for Collier’s with the November 1898 issue, the first of 48 covers in a series that lasted until 1915. His series of 322 covers for The Saturday Evening Post began in 1899. The Leyendecker brothers moved to New York City early in the new century, perhaps in 1900 (according to some sources), and by 1902 were living with their parents and sister in Manhattan. Leyendecker received a stream of commissions for advertising art and magazine covers. In 1903 Charles Beach (1886-1952) entered Leyendecker’s life, first as a model, and then as Leyendecker’s life-long companion and business agent. In 1905 Leyendecker received a commission from clothing manufacturer Cluett, Peabody and Company for art advertising Arrow detachable shirt collars, a relationship that lasted until 1931. Beach was his first model for these paintings, although Leyendecker used other models as well. The chiseled good looks of the models, dressed in impeccable clothing and depicting an elegant lifestyle, led the “Arrow Collar Man” to become hugely popular, with Cluett, Peabody receiving thousands of fan letters a month by the 1920s. This success led to commissions for advertising art from other men’s clothing manufacturers, including Hart Schaffner & Marx and Kuppenheimer. The Leyendecker family moved to New Rochelle, N.Y., on Long Island Sound in Westchester County, where they rented a house in 1909 after the death of their mother in 1905. The two brothers commuted to their joint studio in Manhattan. Five years later Frank bought vacant property in New Rochelle and supervised construction of a 14-room house for the family, completed in 1915. After the death of their father in 1916, Beach moved into the new house with Leyendecker, Frank and their sister, eventually upsetting the relationship among the siblings. Leyendecker created posters to support the war effort during World War I, including “Weapons for Liberty” (1918), featuring a Boy Scout holding a sword kneeling in front of a warlike Statue of Liberty. Leyendecker’s successful career continued during the 1920s. His works including popular sports posters featuring Ivy League athletes. In 1923 the Leyendecker siblings reached an impasse; his brother and sister moved out of the New Rochelle house, which Leyendecker agreed to purchase from his brother, and Beach remained. During the Great Depression Leyendecker received fewer advertising commissions but continued to paint magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post, although assignments became less frequent after a new editor took over the Post in 1937 and another new editor was appointed in 1942. His final cover for the Saturday Evening Post, the last in a long series of New Year’s Babies, was published on January 2, 1943. Leyendecker created posters for war bond sales, the U.S.O. and the United States War Department during World War II. From 1945 he received commissions from William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) for covers for the American Weekly magazine, a Sunday newspaper supplement. He continued creating advertising art until he died of a heart attack in 1951. (TNB 7/2018) Selected bibliography: Cutler, Laurence S. and Judy Goffman Cutler. J. C. Leyendecker: American Imagist. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2008. Saunders, David. “J.. C. Leyendecker,” Illustration, vol. 13, no. 50 (December 2015), pp. 4-108.