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The National Museum of American Illustration

Couple Descending A Staircase


On exhibit for the first time at the National Museum of American Illustration is J.C. Leyendecker’s masterpiece Couple Descending A Staircase. Loaned to the NMAI by a private collector, this Arrow Collar advertisement has never been exhibited to the public before and will be on display for the first time THIS WEEKEND, January 5th-7th; commencement of the New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend, in which the NMAI is participating (see details below).

Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951), most commonly associated with the Saturday Evening Post for which he illustrated 322 covers, was one of the most influential and prolific illustrators of the ‘Golden Age of American Illustration' (1860-1930).Leyendecker began his studies at the Chicago Art Institute in 1889 where he quickly gained the respect of his teachers and peers for his outstanding talent. In 1896 he left Chicago for Paris where he studied at the Académie Julian. Leyendecker excelled at the Académie and was considered one of the most talented students ever to attend. Though Leyendecker did not subscribe to the Art Nouveau movement at the time, he was strongly- perhaps unknowingly influenced by it, as elements of the popular art are clearly detected in much of his work throughout his career. Examples of this can be seen in both the Arrow Collar advertisement above and the image below of an early work entitled In the Yale Boathouse, which is in the permanent collection of the NMAI. In taking a closer look at Couple Descending A Staircase, it becomes evident that the three-dimensional quality of the staircase softens into a beautifully painted design which might well appear at home in a Mucha poster. Similarly, In The Yale Boathouse contains swirls in the water in the bottom half of the image that take on a more stylized pattern indicative of the Art Nouveau style and Mucha's influence on Leyendecker.

Above left: J.C. Leyendecker (1874-1951) Arrow Collar Advertisement Couple Descending A Staircase c. 1925 oil on canvas 48" x 36" Arrow Collar advertisement, Cluett, Peabody & Co., Inc. J. C. Leyendecker by Michael Schau, p. 103 Below: J.C. Leyendecker In The Yale Boat House (1905) oil on canvas, Century Magazine

In The Yale Boathouse

In 1905 Cluett, Peabody & Co., Inc., manufacturers of Arrow brand detachable shirt collars commissioned Leyendecker to illustrate their ads. Cluett, Peabody & Co. needed a “superstar” artist who could depict fashionable and sophisticated men sporting detachable collars. It is no surprise that they chose Leyendecker as the prime artist to sell their wares, for he was a veritable celebrity, gracing cover after cover of the most popular magazine in the nation; The Saturday Evening Post.

Couple Descending A Staircase is revered as the quintessential Arrow Collar advertisement, for its subjects clearly embody the grace, sophistication and elegance that society in the 1920’s aspired to and so admired, and that which Leyendecker portrayed. A well-dressed, well-educated, handsome man of breeding and position in the 20’s might hear himself being called an “Arrow Collar Man”. Leyendecker chose two striking public figures; Brian Donlevy and Phyllis Martingnoni as his models for Couple Descending A Staircase as they epitomized the inherent qualities he sought. Donlevy was a popular actor of the 1930’s most known for his roles in Barbary Coast, Beau Geste, Stagecoach and The Great McGinty. Ms. Martingnoni was a member of the famous thespian family- the Fredericks. Her father being “Pops” Frederick, her mother and siblings were tantamount to the Barrymore family although in silent films. They were both renowned movie stars.

The breadth of Leyendecker’s influence on American popular culture can be witnessed in the success of the Arrow Collar advertisements which grossed $32 million in sales by 1918 for Cluett. Also, Charles Beach, the most famous of Leyendecker's models received over 17,000 fan letters in 1920 from love-sick woman admirers. This was more mail then Rudolph Valentino received at the height of his career. Through the intense popularity of his images, Leyendecker defined the standards of American male beauty, and as a consequence it made him one of the most prominent and successful artists in American history.

The NMAI will be participating in the New York Times, 2007 Arts & Leisure Weekend. The Museum and Museum Shop will be open THIS WEEKEND Friday, January 5 from 10AM to 4PM, Saturday, January 6 from 10AM to 4PM and Sunday, January 7 from 10AM to 4PM for self-guided tours with buy one get one free admission. Tickets are $25, Seniors 60+ and military with id are $22, Children 12 and under are not admitted.

If you are unable to join us for the up-coming Arts & Leisure Weekend and you would like to visit during the 2007 winter season, please call 401-851-8949 ext. 18 well in advance to possibly be included in a prescheduled group tour

Please consider a gift to the NMAI to further support our efforts at preserving these masterpieces of American Culture in perpetuity. Contact: Lee Ann Scotto T:401-851-8949 x 31, or Email: The NMAI is administered by the American Civilization Foundation, a non- profit 501 (c) (3) organization, approved by the U.S Internal Revenue Service.

The image may be used in publicizing the National Museum of American Illustration or the loan of the painting. If your publication wishes to utilize the image, please contact Lee Ann Scotto for permissions and copyright information.

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Lee Ann Scotto, Assistant to the Director, The National Museum of American Illustration, Vernon Court, 492 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840 T: 401-851-8949 ext.31 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 Beaux-Arts adaptation of an 18th century French chateau by architects Carrere & Hastings. 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, and 75 others are displayed in ‘Gilded Age’ architecture, creating a unique union of art and architecture- 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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