Thursday, July 7, 2011

Books I've Read: J.C. Leyendecker

J.C.Leyendecker by Laurence S. Cutler & Judy Goffman Cutler

This was easily one of the best art history books I've ever read, thanks—in no small part—to the massive amount of "pretty pictures" contained therein. For example, the book collects every one (or very nearly so) of Leyendecker's 322 Saturday Evening Post covers, ranging from 1889 to 1986 (published posthumously, of course). But, aside from the wealth of illustration depicting Leyendecker's finished work and preliminary sketches, the book also contains a well-written text documenting the artist's life and struggles.

Yes, Leyendecker was not only gay, but lived with one of his models—the Arrow Collar Man, Charles Beach—from the 20s until Leyendecker's death in 1951. In their early years together, they lived a lavish life that can easily be seen in Leyendecker's paintings of fabulously graceful women and haughty, confident men (as well as being the inspiration for The Great Gatsby).

But what really comes through in the text and illustrations is a sense of Leyendecker the artist. While there was a "Leyendecker style," he always seemed to come up with a new twist on a problem: one need look no farther than his magazine covers, each one different, no matter the holiday. It is Leyendecker we have to thank for the icons of Thanksgiving turkey and football, for the baby New Year, for Santa in red and white, for the way in which nearly every American holiday is observed (especially by way of greeting cards).

And that's what makes a good book: learning something new. I highly recommend this text to anyone with an interest in the history of American culture, or advertising, or illustration. It chronicles the life and times of one of the greatest forgotten artists of the Golden Age of American illustration, and best of all, shows his sketches and works-in-progress, allowing us a peek into his techniques.

This is definitely going on my bookshelf.

Available on Amazon: here.

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