Books

J. C. Leyendecker


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By Hervé St-Louis
June 26, 2022 - 14:31

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Illustrator Joseph Christian Leyendecker was a popular commercial artist of the first half of the 20th century which dazzled audiences with his covers for The Saturday Evening Post and the creator of the famous Arrow Collar Man, a brand of fine shirts. He inspired better-known commercial illustrator Norman Rockwell and set the stage for what was considered grand American illustrative arts, sophistication, and of course under the course of muted gay themes. The book by writer Michael Schau is one of the first to look at the life of this celebrated and prolific American artist, that almost disappear from the public’s attention after his death.

Schau’s book was the first serious essay on Leyendecker and thus he had to dig through a lot of material t begin the difficult process of reclaiming the work of a once popular artist whose work fell out of favour by the time the book was published in 1974. Understanding the times, even though Schau discussed the oddball relationship between J.C. Leyendecker and his favourite model, Canadian Charles Beach, he eschewed any mention of their possible homosexual relationship, preferring to mention that the Canuck lived with the illustrator for 50 years and managed his life.

As recalled by Schau, his presence in Leyendecker’s life was so great that he caused a split between the artist, his younger brother Francis Xavier (Frank), and younger sister and Augusta who both left the family estate after ma fight with their sibling’s lover. Schau describes the Leyendecker illustrative work as being best represented by the aesthetics of Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby as opposed to just about any Roaring Twenties icon.

Of course, Schau includes several illustrations by Leyendecker and a just a few by brother Frank. I would have liked to see more of Frank Leyendecker’s work in comparison to his older brother whose shadow, he lived in. He was equally a great artist, also trained at Académie Julian in Paris, France. However, the younger brother was fraught with depression and less attentive and focused on commercial arts as his older brother. There are many very good reproductions in this book, but many of them are smaller or in black and white.
Some older illustrations and magazine covers were also originally released in black and white.

Adorned with a beautiful dust jacket, this book is good survey of J.C. Leyendecker, even though newer works have been released since. As an older book never reprinted, secondary market copies can be expansive. Mine was a steal at $84 CAD. The book can fetch for upwards of $300 on the secondary market but is a must for art historians of the first half of the 20th century commercial arts, and those interested in the parallel industry that served as a counterweight to early cartoonists.

Rating: 9 /10


Last Updated: June 26, 2022 - 14:36

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