American ImagistAuthored by Museum Co-Founders Judy & Laurence Cutler Selected for Review by
Published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., NYC
SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW
Signs and Portents
Published: April 5, 2009
By STEVEN HELLER
|At the risk of sounding too nostalgic, I would say that Laurence S.
Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler's J. C. LEYENDECKER: American Imagist (Abrams, $50), a profusely illustrated monograph, demonstrates how
beautifully composed and exquisitely painted the editorial and
advertising illustration was during the profession's golden age - the
turn of the century through the mid-'40s. Magazines and billboards were
wellsprings of illustrious popular art, created by masters like J. C.
Leyendecker, his brother F. X. Leyendecker, Charles Dana Gibson, Coles
Phillips, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg and
others. This is not to imply that illustrators today are less
proficient or creative; but with the current preference for raw
expressionism over pristine exactitude, not as many artists do the same
level of virtuosic work today.The
German-born Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951) left behind a huge number of images, mostly covers for The Saturday Evening Post (when
Rockwell wasn't doing them), as well as others for The Century, The
Literary Digest, McClure's, Vanity Fair and dozens more. All of his
Post covers from the early 1900s to the early 1940s were stylized
vignettes, each painted in the same muted brown-and-red palette. But
the nuances he captured - in such details as leather coats, athletes'
jerseys and the shiny skin of New Year's cherubs (he did a lot of them)
- were luminescent. Apparently, he wiped oil on his models' muscles
(though not on the cherubs) to enhance those "male surfaces" he most
admired. He also often painted in a dark room by candlelight to
underscore a model's erotic qualities. His most famous advertising
campaign, for Arrow shirts and collars, which is still cited as a
symbol of the flapper era, was the quintessence of stylishness and put
the company on the fashion map. His "Man and Woman Dancing" (1923),
"Dancing Couple" (1930) and "Couple Descending Staircase" (1932), for
which he painted his friend Phyllis Frederic and the actor Brian
Donlevy, were reproduced in so many magazines that the models became
starring characters in their own right.Leyendecker was a keen
commercial strategist. "In evaluating how to best promote himself and
his work," the Cutlers write, "Leyendecker believed that his greatest
impact as an artist was creating images easily reproduced, immediately
recognized and broadly distributed for audiences by the millions to
appreciate." He made certain that upon seeing his work people would
say, "That's a Leyendecker!"Still, not much is known about him,
which accounts for the book's limited, though entertaining, narrative.
We are told Leyendecker shied away from the limelight and "an adoring
public" because he was "a homosexual when it was nearly impossible to
live such a life openly." So, to ensure his privacy and "conceal his
gay lifestyle, Leyendecker meticulously cleansed his files and records
of anything homosexually explicit or implicit." The only clues were in
his artwork. "The gay subculture saw the irony in his work and
appreciated the erotic images he lavished upon the world," the authors
explain. Yet "these homoerotic images appealed to heterosexual viewers
as well."Despite the fame during his lifetime, Leyendecker has
never received the kind of acclaim bestowed on Norman Rockwell, who in
2001 was the subject of an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum.
According to the Cutlers, only one other book devoted to Leyendecker
has been published since his death, and that came out in 1974. So it is
time for reassessment, and the wealth of illustrations here allows
readers to reassess for themselves.
Leyendecker represented the epitome of craft.
|J.C. Leyendecker: American Imagist
SIGNED COPIES AVAILABLE NOW
|Signed copies of the J.C. Leyendecker: American Imagist book by Judy and Laurence Cutler are available in
our MuseShop (call 401.851.8949 x18 to order). All proceeds go to our non-profit organization, the American
Civilization Foundation, to support our endowment fund and continuing facilities
Call 401.851.8949 x18 to order
Review copies available for the media from
Harry N. Abrams Inc., NYC T:212.206.7715
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National Museum of American Illustration is a nonprofit, independent,
educational and aesthetic organization. It is located in Newport, RI,
on Bellevue Avenue at Vernon Court (1898), a Carreré and Hastings
designed Beaux-Arts adaptation of an 18th century French chateau. It is
the first national museum devoted exclusively to American illustration
art. Illustration consists of original artwork created to be reproduced
in books, magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. 'Golden Age'
paintings by such luminaries as Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, NC
Wyeth, JC Leyendecker, and 75 others are displayed in 'Gilded Age'
architecture, creating a unique union of architecture and art - a
national treasure. The Museum is administered by the American
Civilization Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the goal to
present the best possible venue for appreciating the greatest
collection of illustration art - the most American of American art.
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