Compose Msg Read Mail Settings Search Email
Muse News

Museum    |    Mission    |    Collection    |    Visitor Info    |    Directions    |    Contact

J.C. Leyendecker:
American Imagist

Authored by Museum Co-Founders Judy & Laurence Cutler
Selected for Review by

1901 Medal
Published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., NYC

line break

New York Times
Signs and Portents
Published: April 5, 2009

line break

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.

Couple Descending StaircaseThe 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

J.C. Leyendecker mermaidSigned 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 restoration.

Call 401.851.8949 x18 to order

Review copies available for the media from
 Harry N. Abrams Inc., NYC  T:212.206.7715


The Museum is open year-round for visitors and group tours by advance reservation.
Tickets: $18.  Seniors (60+), and Military w/id: $16.  Group Tours: $15.  Students w/id: $12.  Children ages 5 to 12: $8.  Children ages 5 to 12 are permitted, only if they are vouchsafed by parents or guardians as being 'well-behaved.'
Vernon Ct Aerial
For Reservations:

nmai logoEric Brocklehurst
National Museum of American Illustration
492 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840
T: 401-851-8949 ext.18. F: 401-851-8974,

The 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.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: This email message and its contents are copyrighted and are our proprietary products. Any unauthorized use, reproduction, or transfer of this message or its contents, in any medium, is strictly prohibited. ©2008 National Museum of American Illustration.