Wednesday, March 23, 2011

J C Leyendecker

J C Leyendecker born 23 March 1874 (d. 1952)

Born in Germany - his family moved to Chicago when he was 7 - Joseph Christian Leyendecker was one of the most successful commercial artists of the 20th century.

His incredible drawing and painting ability, illuminated by his gay sexuality, brought a new aesthetic into advertising, bringing it very much into the new century. His work as a magazine illustrator and his vibrant, body conscious advertising usually for high-end luxury brands, created the prototype for the male sex symbol, his early work pre-dating the cinema, in the time before photography dominated the media.

His most successful campaign was for the Arrow shirt company, and his Arrow collar man [pictured] became the very epitome of American manliness, prosperity & style, at one time getting more fanmail and proposals of marriage than Rudolph Valentino it is claimed. What his legion of fans did not realise was that their idol, Leyendecker's model was in fact his lover, Charles Beach.

Always declining fine art commissions, Leyendecker preferred to work as an illustrator and commercial artist. He was incredibly successful and well-known. His work helped define the visual look of America as much as the cinema up until World War II. His influence on Norman Rockwell can be clearly seen too. So financially successful was he that in 1914 he was able to commision a mansion in New Rochelle, where he lived until his death in 1952.

And Charles Beach? He and Leyendecker were together for over 50 years, his role encompassing model, husband, cook & business manager. Despite Leyendecker's fame, his life is not so well-known now because he lived discreetly; it would also appear that on his death Beach destroyed most of Leyendecker's remaining work, diaries and documents. Leyendecker shunned photography as an art form and few photos exist or have survived of them. Charles Beach died shortly after Leyendecker also in 1952.

If you enter the name J C Leyendecker on Google images, you can see how exquisite, stylish and iconic his work was, and you can see how his work influenced the photographic advertising campaigns which have subsequently replaced his beautiful illustrations. It's worth the look.

For more about J. C. Leyendecker's life and career

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Blogger Rob Bartell said...

My absolute favorite illustrator. No one will ever compare to his genius, his unique style.

Thanks for posting your article about the great man. I wish someone would come out (pardon the pun) with a comprehensive biography that explores both his work and his orientation. There must be someone still alive that knew Joe or Charles...



4:52 am  
Blogger Shephard said...

My favorite illustrator as well. So under-appreciated.

6:24 pm  
Blogger Kat said...

That is such a great article! I knew very little of Leyendecker's life, but I'm very happy to have stumbled across this article, I didn't even know he was gay! And to know that he his partner were together to so's such a happy story. Thanks for writing this.

8:46 pm  

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