Introducing the most iconic visual images and symbols including the New Year's baby, the pudgy red-garbed rendition of Santa Claus, flowers for Mother's Day, and firecrackers on the 4th of July, the magazines covers produced by the American Golden Age Illustrator, J. C. Leyendecker, are celebrated for establishing an enduring tradition in America.
Remembered as the most in vogue American illustrator of the early 20th century, Leyendecker was born on March 23, 1874, in Montabour, Germany, a town NW of Frankfurt. In 1882, he emigrated with his parents and younger brother, Frank, to America. At the age of 15, Leyendecker apprenticed with J. Manz & Co., and took art lessons in the evenings at the Chicago Art Institute, primarily instructed by John H. Vanderpoel.
At 19, Leyendecker completed his first commercial commission of 60 Bible illustrations for the Powers Brothers Company. In 1896, he won a ‘Century Magazine' cover competition and moved to Paris with his brother Frank, where they enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian art school. In the fall of 1898, the brothers returned to America and opened a studio in Chicago.
Working for national publications like ‘Colliers’ and ‘The Saturday Evening Post', Leyendecker shifted his studio in New York in 1900 and start producing color illustrations that stormed the magazine industry. In 1895, he made his first book illustration, ‘The Dolly Dialogues’, next came ‘The Pit: The Epic of the Wheat' in 1903, ‘ Ridolfo' in 1906, ‘Lole and Mortmain in 1907, and ‘The Crimson Conquest’ in 1908.
In 1905, Leyendecker created his most successful advertising illustration, ‘The Arrow Collar Man' for Arrow Collar brand. He produced over 320 covers for ‘The Saturday Evening Post'. He received major commissions from other clothing manufacturers and magazines and built a large house in New Rochelle in 1914.
In 1943, the editorship of the ‘Post’ changed and the new editor stopped commissioning Leyendecker. In 1945, ‘The American Weekly' hired him to do covers. In 1940s the quality of Leyendecker's work had been declined and it rankled him. In 1951, while working on yet another American Weekly cover, Leyendecker had a heart attack and died on 25th of July, at his estate in New Rochelle.
A wonderful collection of Leyendecker's works is in Newport, Rhode Island. The National Museum of American Illustration hosed the largest collection of his paintings in one place.