Joseph Christian “J. C.” Leyendecker
1874-1951 | German-American
Aviator and Woman in a White Hat
Oil on canvas
These rare portraits were painted by the American master of illustration, J. C. Leyendecker, as studies for Kuppenheimer advertisements. Bold and energetic, they perfectly encapsulate Leyendecker’s signature style. Depicting a young aviator of the First World War at the left, and a vivacious young woman at right, possibly Leyendecker favorite Phyllis Frederic, these oils on canvas clearly illustrate a step in Leyendecker’s creative process. After creating rough sketches of his models in charcoal or pencil, he would select the most interesting ones, then use a grid to copy them onto a bigger board, enlarging them and experimenting with colors and position. These sketch sheets and canvases usually resembled puzzle pieces, and Leyendecker would then put the pieces together to create the final painting. A favorite with collectors, such sketches are exceptionally rare and truly delightful glimpses into Leyendecker’s work. A very similar aviator, possibly the finished work, graces the cover of the House of Kuppenheimer Fashion Catalog or "Style Book" of 1917.
Joseph Christian Leyendecker was the most important American illustrator of the early 20th century. Revered by artists such as Norman Rockwell, who counted him as a personal mentor and friend, Leyendecker created the aesthetic of modern illustration, as well as two of the most iconic figures in advertising, the prize-winning Arrow Shirt Man and the News Year’s Baby. A contemporary of such illustrators as Charles Dana Gibson, N. C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle as colleagues and members of the Salmagundi Club, Leyendecker revolutionized the way products were bought and sold, and created icons that the country could identify with and rally around, especially during times of hardship and war. His style is unmistakable, combining wide, Impressionistic brushstrokes, Beaux Arts techniques, and an Asian chopmark-style signature, which alludes to his Art Nouveau influences.
Born in Germany in 1874, Leyendecker immigrated to the United States with his family in 1882. His eldest brother, Adolph, became a prominent stained glass artist, and Joe, as he was called, had an early artistic calling. After studying at the Chicago Art Institute under John H. Vanderpoel, Leyendecker enrolled at the Académie Julien in 1896, where he studied for a year with his younger brother Frank in the Beaux Arts tradition. During his time here, he was exposed to and influenced by the works of Art Nouveau painters and printmakers Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Chéret and Alphonse Mucha, with whom he formed a strong friendship. The next year, he staged his first one-man exhibition at the Salon du Champs de Mars, and made the auspicious acquaintance of Paul Gauguin.
In 1898, Leyendecker produced the first of 48 covers for Collier’s magazine. The next year, he painted his first cover for Saturday Evening Post magazine, which was the beginning of a 44-year association with that esteemed publication. Over the course of his career, he would also paint covers for Life magazine, illustrations for a library of books, and transform advertising for such companies as B. Kuppenheimer & Co. and Interwoven Socks. His work for Arrow Shirt is the most well-known and beloved. Using his lover and manager, Charles Beach, as a model, Leyendecker created the ultimate image of modern American masculinity. His work for Kuppenheimer, also known as the House of Kuppenheimer, is just as iconic. Founded in 1876, the company became the manufacturer of uniforms for the United States Army during World War I. Thanks to Leyendecker's advertising, the firm became synonymous with the ultimate in male taste and desirability.
Unfortunately, near the end of his career, as Leyendecker’s associations with Collier’s and Saturday Evening Post came to an end, his work fell into obscurity. When he died in 1951, his great friend Norman Rockwell, who commemorated their relationship in his painting Waiting For the Art Editor, served as one of his pallbearers.
Visible Canvas: 7 1/2" high x 5 3/4" wide
Frame: 12" high x 17 1/4" wide
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island
City of Fullerton Museum, California
Currier Gallery of Art, New Hampshire
Haggin Museum, California
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Madison Museum of Fine Art, Inc., Georgia
Oglethorpe University Museum, Georgia
Society of Illustrators Museum of Illustration, New York City
J.C. Leyendecker, 2008, Laurence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler and the National Museum of American Illustration