Friday, August 3, 2007

A Little Bit of Leyendecker Greatness

J.C. Leyendecker
Wow.

Every once in a while, I get something in my electronic mail box that’s like Christmas in July (well, August, anyway), and what a treat this is! (If you’re short on time, skip the rest of my palaver, go to this page right now and click on the images to see the large versions!)

Andrew Bosley wrote to say that after reading my previous posts about J.C. Leyendecker (also here and here) he had gotten to thinking about the relative lack of Leyendecker material online and realized that he could actually do something about it. Bosley happened to have a collection of 31 Saturday Evening Post covers with Leyendecker illustrations, which he has generously scanned (apparently expertly) and placed online in a blog called A Little Bit of Leyendecker Greatness as beautiful, high-resolution images.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Joseph Christian Leyendecker was one of the all time greatest illustrators. He is also one of my personal favorites. In my original post about him I tried to convey how flabbergasted I was, and continued to be, at how relatively unknown he remains; particularly when compared to Norman Rockwell, who followed Leyendecker into the role of main cover illustrator for the Post, considered Leyendecker a major influence and a friend, and receives credit that I think belongs to Leyendecker for setting the high-bar on American magazine illustration.

J.C. Leyendecker, along with his even less well recognized brother Frank X. Leyendecker, who was also an excellent illustrator with a similar style, helped revolutionize illustration in a way akin to Howard Pyle’s revolution half a century earlier. Pyle brought illustration out of the polite stage-like settings and into the drama of realistic action; Leyendecker brought illustration out of the window of the picture frame and into the modern idea of illustration as a mixture of painting and design. Not only did his composition’s incorporate the design of the page (in a manner somewhat akin to Mucha and later carried into modernism by Al Parker), Leyendecker designed his images right down to his brush strokes.

I know I used the illustration above in one of my previous posts about Leyendecker, but I just love it. It’s Leyendecker doing his take on Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth’s territory (large version here) . Just look at the modeling on the faces and hands, the rounded apple skin blush on the woman’s cheeks, the textures of the different types of material, the astonishing handling of the cloth folds and the geometric solidity of the underlying forms, the snap and liveliness of his drawing and the designerly confidence of the way his color is applied. I’ll say it again. Wow.

It simply boggles my mind that there are not dozens of books on Leyendecker and museums dedicated to his work. Yes, there are some resources out there and I’ve listed some of them on my previous posts., but in one fell swoop, Bosley has created a Leyendecker archive that ranks as one of the best available on the net. (Bosley is a recent graduate of the Illustration program at San Jose State University and currently works as a concept artist for Red Storm Entertainment. From the look of the intriguing work on his own blog Sketch Hunter, we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.)

Meanwhile, my thanks to Andrew and the other generous souls out there who have endeavored to make some of Leyendecker’s legacy of beautiful illustration available to us.

Hey, all you art book publishers, given the great revival of interest in Golden Age American illustration (and the astronomical prices the originals are commanding) why is there no big new compendium of J.C. Leyendecker’s work? C’mon!

Addendum: A new book has finally been released: J.C. Leyendecker by Laurence S. Cutler, Judy Goffman Cutler. (See this post’s comments.)

7 thoughts on “A Little Bit of Leyendecker Greatness

  1. Kim Kibby

    Leyendecker was amazing. Nice to see him getting some props – and some onine exposure. Most people have never heard of him, yet you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know his student Norman Rockwell…

  2. Ben Jelter

    I actually had the opportunity to see a large Leyendecker exhibit at the Haggin museum in Stockton, CA. Unfortunately it is over now. Its true that a new Leyendecker book is something in very high demand. I know I would buy it.

  3. Kay

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m old enough to remember some of these and how fabulous that they were saved so well and now shared. Beautiful illustrator!

  4. Ericka Lugo

    OH Gosh! I was wondering where I could find high quality paintings from Leyendecker. After one of your posts I got so interested in his work that I started looking for more but there wasn’t much. I’m so glad someone did this, so thank you. Now I will hopefully get to study more of his technique and apply some of it to my own work.

  5. Tom Schacks

    Great Post! I am a huge Leyendecker fan. At least the images on your site are original and correct. Have you checked out the new Leyendecker book yet? A nice and welcome upgrade from the M. Schau publication of 1974. There is one unfortunate thing about the new book – there is a FORGERY on pages 98-99. That’s right! A Counterfeit Leyendecker painting. Many artists have tried to copy his style over the years, but I am so surprised that the authors {Judy and Laurence Cutler} would not identify that painting as a 2nd rate knockoff. In Schau’s book it was also reproduced but the image was reversed for some reason. The original Arrow Company advertisements don’t lie. Too bad because the other visual treats are pretty good. The authors also took some aggressive liberties with the biographical portion of the book. Much of their historical ramblings are without backup and, in some cases, the writings are totally fiction. Overall this is a must-have book for Leyendecker collectors. Mistakes aside, you should own a copy. Check out the counterfeit painting – the authors have admitted it is not authentic but they identified it as an original painting.

  6. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks, Tom. I haven’t had a chance to see the book yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve added a link to the main post. Thanks for your assessment of the book and the interesting note about the non-Leyendecker painting.

  7. C Emenome

    Leyendecker was such a genuis and should’ve attempted to keep his legacy of paintings and drawings all together.
    Talent like this only comes around once in 50 years or so?
    I’d bet it really irked Rockwell to love and loathe his idol so much? His work pales when compared side to side…

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