In this Artist Feature segment, I want to draw more attention to certain artists I hold dear that some people may or may not know about. Not just their work but also their life’s story to perhaps learn something more from their life. I first discovered J.C Leyendecker during my diploma education years where a lecturer gave a talk about master artists that we may not know about and I definitely didn’t know about Leyendecker. My lecturer called attention to many things, like his immensely efficient brushstrokes and also the fact that he’s very very good at depicting handsome men for a very specific reason (hint hint).

An illustration by J.C Leyendecker, known for the very graphical stroke and shapes he uses to paint.

Leyendecker was a famous “Golden Age of American Illustration” artist that Norman Rockwell saw as his senior/teacher and much of his early work was influenced by Leyendecker very heavily before Rockwell found his own style. Leyendecker’s paint strokes are so incredibly efficient and almost graphically designed, there are no wasted strokes, every single brush stroke is there to push the illustration further. Alla Prima style of stroke by stroke, thoughtfully and expertly done, leaving the board at times to create even more of a graphical effect.

Leyendecker’s mastery of light, ensuring the shadows are cool when the light is warm enhances the picture even more.

Leyendecker’s own life wasn’t the best, closeted as he had to be during his time and, ultimately, long story short, he died relatively young and poor, he had a abusive muse/model/lover, Charles Beach, that took a lot from him, sold his paintings for cheap just to fund his alcoholism, etc. Norman Rockwell was a pallbearer at Leyendecker’s funeral hated Charles Beach. Side note: As a artist or really just in general, do not get a negative abusive person influence in your life and your art. Cut them off immediately.

At the time of his death, his paintings were sold for very little for what they are actually worth. However, his work lives on timelessly (although I had a university lecturer say his works look “dated”…noted with thanks), and his works are still very influential, there are a few artists even today whose works are invocative of Leyendecker. His way of drawing the folds of clothes especially inspire a lot of artists.

What Maketh a Man | Lapham's Quarterly
Every brush stroke shows the action and form of the figure.

It’s also said that Norman Rockwell didn’t produce more Saturday Evening Post covers than Leyendecker to honour him, Leyendecker produced 322 covers. Rockwell did 321. Rockwell could have produced more but decided not to, honouring his greatest influence. The only book published out there about Leyendecker is sadly homophobic in text, bashes Rockwell as a hack that copied/profited off Leyendecker and was in very poor taste. However that’s the only book that has accurate pictures of his work, googling Leyendecker gets you other artists doing studies of his work, different colour depictions of his work, etc. If you want the most accurate pictures while ignoring the text of the book, you can get the book.

Rediscovering J.C. Leyendecker & the Creation of the Perfect American Male
There’s a retrospective different look at Leyendecker’s art knowing that he was a homosexual and how that reflects in his art is interesting.

The level of retrospective homoeroticism in some of Leyendecker’ work is also notable, and I would say its something interesting to note. How a artist’s attributes, feelings and desires can also go into a painting sub-consciously. There are amusing cases of, for example, artists having broad shoulders and end up drawing a lot of shoulders broader than they are supposed to because they see their own broad shoulders every day and subconsciously internalize that as the norm. Leyendecker’s work that involve more than two men usually has them looking at each other or interacting with each other in such a way that some might be able to pick up a hint of these two guys seem to have a thing for each other.

In conclusion, Leyendecker is an amazing artist worthy of further study, his life is a lesson in not letting even what inspires you like your muse (which people can still have these days) abuse you and his myriad of works can and have served as an inspiration for many artists even in today’s age.


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