Articles At A Glance
By: Robert Reed
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, January 2007
Famed artist J.C. Leyendecker didn't exactly invent the concept of the New Year's Baby, but he probably did more than anyone else to establish the idea in the 20th century. Leyendecker brought the New Year's Baby concept to The Saturday Evening Post in the early 1900s and it became a tradition that lasted at American's leading magazine for 40 years. Historians note that in both ancient Greece and Egypt festivals regularly included infants to symbolize the seasonal act of rebirth.
However "our modern image of a baby in a diaper with a New Year's banner across its chest originated in Germany in the 14th century," according to Charles Panati author of Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. Panati says in Europe it was celebrated in folk songs and illustrations before the New Year's Baby was brought to America by German immigrants.
Joseph Christian Leyendecker was of course such an immigrant. He was born in Germany in 1874 and relocated to the United States in 1882 with his family. During his lifetime he reached dual celebrity status with his work both as a magazine cover artist and advertising illustrator. But probably none of his work is as fondly remembered today as his enduring New Year's Baby covers for the Post.
Ultimately Leyendecker contributed a wide range of subjects to magazines, on ads, postcards, posters and even book illustrations. With the possible exception of Norman Rockwell who followed in his footsteps, Leyendecker provided more published popular art than anyone in the 20th century. As one result he had "a rather large cult art following of Americans who framed his magazine art to hang in their homes in the teens and 1920s," according to David Henkel author of Collectible Magazines, Identification and Price Guide.
Both Leyendecker and his younger brother Frank established their talents at an early age. By age 16 J,C. was an illustrator at a Chicago engraving company and a night student at the Chicago Art Institute.
In 1896 he won a poster contest sponsored by the highly influential Century magazine. Interestingly, second place went to an equally little known illustrator named Maxfield Parrish. Leyendecker did covers for the Chicago-based Inland Printer that same year and the following year. The artist created his first cover for the distinguished Saturday Evening Post in 1899.
During his amazingly productive lifetime Leyendecker produced more than 320 covers for the Post, a number surpassed in history only by one other artist--Norman Rockwell. Even today researchers at 21st Century Archives Inc., say Leyendecker's use "of good-natured characters strutting across the pages of the magazine obviously inspired Rockwell in the narrative illustration covers of his own early Post work."
In Rockwell's autobiography, he tells the story of when he was a teenager, he would linger regularly around the New Rochelle, New York, station for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of his hero, J.C. Leyendecker, who was chauffeured to the station.
During his zenith Leyendecker contributed covers to a number of leading magazines in addition to the Post, they included Collier's, Country Gentleman, Leslie's. Life, Success, and Woman's Home Companion. He also contributed illustrations to books including The City of Delight published in 1908.
Among his many advertising account renderings, the most well known related to Arrow Collars and Shirts. Leyendecker began his work for Arrow in 1905 when the famous firm made only simple starched collars. During his long association with the company, Arrow began the manufacture of entire, very fashionable shirts.
Leyendecker's Arrow Man in the emerging process became an advertising legend. The Arrow man was "the square-jawed, aloof, unconquerable gentleman who, for decades, became the symbol of what manhood should be," noted a spokesman for 21st Century Archives. "With blade-straight shoulders, the slender waist, and the cleft chin, this creation lured all men toward the glory of being the best dresser of them all."
By many accounts the Arrow Man received vast amounts of fan mail including 17,000 pieces during one month in the 1920s alone. Leyendecker was not the only artist of the Arrow Man line, but his were the most popular. According to Susan Nicholson in The Encyclopedia of Antique Postcards, the model for Leyendecker's Arrow Man was Charles Beach, a companion of the artist for 50 years.
Leyendecker also contributed illustrations for other major advertisers of the early 20th century including Hart, Schaffner & Marx, Ligget and Myers, Inc., Kellog's Corn Flakes, Kuppenheimer Clothing, and Interwoven Socks.
Wrote author Henkel of Leyendecker’s very own Arrow Shirt and Kuppenheimer images, "these fantasy men were women's answers to the Gibson girl." Some of Leyendecker's commercial work was also used on advertising postcards. Among the best known was a series of four servicemen drawn in 1918 for Chesterfield cigarettes. The set featured a sailor, pilot, and two different soldiers. Two of the Chesterfield postcards sold together at Swann's auction gallery in New York in 1993 for a total of $88.
The Chesterfield postcards were unsigned, as was most of his drawings for advertising clients, but the signed originals remain in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Leyendecker's work also appeared on Kuppenheimer suits advertising postcards.
Leyendecker with his seemingly boundless ability was also in a unique group of American artists who contributed posters not only for World War I, but decades later for World War II as well. Titles of the WW I posters included Order Coal Now, Weapons for Liberty featuring a Boy Scout at the feet of Columbia, and one for the U.S. Navy, America Calls.
The extraordinary artist contributed his last cover for the Saturday Evening Post early in 1943, and provided a series of WW II posters for the war effort the following year. Leyendecker died at his home in 1951.
In 1995 the very collectible works of Leyendecker came full circle with a set of trading cards depicting 50 of his most popular renderings. The set from 21st Century Archives also included five special cards of colorful New Year's Baby covers which appeared over the year in the Saturday Evening Post.
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