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J.C. Leyendecker
June 5, 2014 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Before Rockwell, a Gay Artist Defined the Perfect American Male.

"... when we started researching, we found out there was life before Norman Rockwell. And then we found out what kind of life, and we went, “What? Leyendecker’s gay? No, it can’t be.”... "

Also see.

Previously and even more previously.
posted by bibliogrrl (42 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't really see the need to diss Rockwell to praise Leyendecker and to call him forgotten may be a bit strong, but hell, any excuse to showcase these wonderful drawings is alright with me.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:08 AM on June 5 [10 favorites]


This is great - I've often wondered about those very kind of images, since they're posted on men's style blogs all the time, collected in manly-man men's style books, etc, and yet are so obviously the product of a gay sensibility. There are quite a few ads - even up through the fifties - which look to me like they're produced gay ad men.

Did Leyendecker ever chuckle, I wonder, as he turned in his work?
posted by Frowner at 9:09 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Posted, that is, by men who have a lot invested in just how straight and "perfect heterosexual gentleman who gets all the ladies" they are.
posted by Frowner at 9:10 AM on June 5


Rockwell readily acknowledged his debt to Leyendecker. From 1997: “I began working for ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ in 1916 and Leyendecker was my god. I actually used to, unbeknownst to him, follow him down the streets of New Rochelle, just to be close to him.”*
posted by grabbingsand at 9:13 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]


I don't really see the need to diss Rockwell to praise Leyendecker

I didn't read it as a dis against Rockwell at all. It's just simply that Rockwell's so synonymous with the Saturday Evening Post covers. They're both before my time, but I was familiar with Rockwell, and not at all with Leyendecker. So, all it's saying is "hey, there's more to this time period's cover artists than Rockwell!"
posted by explosion at 9:23 AM on June 5


“What? Leyendecker’s gay? No, it can’t be.”... "

You've
got
to
be
kidding
me
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:24 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]


As I read the post link "Is this going to be about Leyende-" "oh okay."
posted by The Whelk at 9:24 AM on June 5


The great thing is when you start noticing where the lines of sight go in all his illustrations -- the men are all making eye contact with each other, and never the women.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:25 AM on June 5 [7 favorites]


The Haggin Museum in Stockton, CA, has an excellent Leyendecker Collection, if you're in the area it's well worth a visit. http://www.hagginmuseum.org/leyendecker/
posted by lepus at 9:28 AM on June 5


What's going on with this guy's pecs? Was Leyendecker an influence on Rob Liefeld?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:31 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]


I love the ones that are all like "Various dudes checking each other out! Also, eh, fine, maybe there's this one woman in there."
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:31 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Is this a good thread to post the most amazing coffeecup I own?

warning: photo contained clothed (though suggestively) homoerotic cheesecake, tiny baby puppy
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:38 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I love Leyendecker's elegant sort of male eroticism. It seems a bit of a shame to pigeonhole this as gay art. Inaccurate on the face of it of course, being mainstream illustration. But also I think his work was deliberately calculated to appeal to women and men in general, not just sexually. OTOH I love my historical homosex art, so anything that brings more attention to it is OK by me.

Awhile back when I was reading up on Leyendecker I also came across this amazing 1912 Swiss poster by Burkhard Mangold, an ad for a men's laundry. I covet this poster. Can't find a copy for sale from a reliable source; given it's an ad for a men's laundry in Bern, I fear there weren't terribly many copies made.
posted by Nelson at 9:42 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


What's going on with this guy's pecs? Was Leyendecker an influence on Rob Liefeld?

Or Brad Bird?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:48 AM on June 5


MartinWisse: I don't really see the need to diss Rockwell to praise Leyendecker and to call him forgotten may be a bit strong, but hell, any excuse to showcase these wonderful drawings is alright with me.


I didn't either -but there's a little bit more context in the OP (Beach=Leyendecker’s partner, Charles Beach).

Collectors Weekly: What was the connection between Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker?

Villanueva-Collado: Norman Rockwell worshipped Leyendecker, but bad-mouthed him to death in his own biography. He was especially cruel to Beach, whom everybody seemed to hate because he was too good-looking, too prepossessing.

posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:49 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]


interesting how that body type (Life saver guy excepted) is still the ideal gay male type in France and parts of Europe whereas the US/UK have gone in a much more older/muscly direction.
posted by The Whelk at 9:51 AM on June 5


> Norman Rockwell worshipped Leyendecker, but bad-mouthed him to death in his own biography

Two people in the comments say that isn't accurate, though. I haven't read Rockwell's biography myself.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:07 AM on June 5


I love Leyendecker's elegant sort of male eroticism. It seems a bit of a shame to pigeonhole this as gay art.

I have to agree. I'm a huge fan of JC Leyendecker and going through the pages of the book edited by Laurence and Judy Cutler you can see hundreds of cover illustrations depicting women and men, young and old, all of which have in common that they are exquisitely rendered. The post handpicks illustrations with lone male figures or where the women seem to be an afterthought (because, well, they are from male clothes ads), but there are as many stunning pieces depicting women on their own and tender guy-girl love scenes. That his homosexuality allowed for a prominence and keen eye for male beauty is a given, but the few examples given in the post are hardly representative. His vast body of work was primarily concerned with presenting beautiful people, in general, which was pretty much the goal of commercial illustration.
posted by infinitelives at 10:12 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]


interesting how that body type (Life saver guy excepted) is still the ideal gay male type in France and parts of Europe whereas the US/UK have gone in a much more older/muscly direction.

This sentence stopped me cold:

"Villanueva-Collado: Well, it’s very interesting because President Roosevelt called these images of American males “the commoner.” But this is not the commoner. This is the American macho male before his aggrandizement as a killing machine."

Fantastic article, thank you so much for posting it. I recently picked up a collection of the first few years of Life magazine, now I've got something new to look for in 'em.
posted by the bricabrac man at 10:35 AM on June 5


These are fascinating because they come from a time when American masculinity was not defined so explicitly and exclusively in homophobic terms. Seeing them now, knowing the artist's biography, we can see the "obvious" homoeroticism in them, but 100 years ago manly men being manly men in close physical proximity to each other's bare bodies was not nearly as suspect as it is today. Lovely stuff.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:40 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]


The 1950s gave us the Marlboro Man as our advertising icon of the man's man--rough-hewn and fashion-disdaining--at the very same time that it gave us social panic about"homosexuals" subverting the government, and boys becoming "pansies" unless their fathers engaged with them in rough-and-tumble play. That Marlboro Man image still has a strong influence, and seems to have completely displaced the Arrow Collar Man as the emblem of masculinity in our collective consciousness. But as Saxon Kane notes, in the early decades of the 20th century, there was no "homosexual taint" associated with the ideal of a man who is beautiful, fashionable and intellectual as well as athletic and powerful. Male homosociality was physical and comfortable, free from today's anxieties about too much touching or affection. It's lovely, yes.
posted by DrMew at 10:53 AM on June 5


Harper Lee defined the perfect American male. What he looked like (or who he looked at) was irrelevant.
posted by headnsouth at 10:54 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I dunno, pundits railed against Valentino's coiffed, dandified persona and "powder puff" makeup. Then again he was a foreign outsider in the vulgar movie business, not handsome square-jawed Ivy League WASP lads engaging in platonic rowing and the like.
posted by The Whelk at 10:55 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


The Met has never touched so-called commercial art.

Well that's not specifically true. Leyendecker in particular was exhibited, for example, as part of "American Art Posters of the 1890s: The Gift of the Leonard A. Lauder," Oct. 22, 1987 to Jan. 10, 1988.

You can read the catalogue online or download the pdf for free. In his introduction, Philippe de Montebello notes (with regret at how long it took) that certain Leyendecker and other posters were first accesioned in 1957. That presumably refers to this poster, but in looking at the full list of 17 Leyendecker works that the Met earns, a number are earlier than that in accession date.

I find it totally insulting that the American wing of the Met does not have him anywhere.

It does appear that none of the Leyendecker works that the Met owns are currently on dispaly.

The American wing of the Met does not have anything relating to American illustration,

OK... so we've established that they do own some of this stuff and even some Leyendecker. But of what's on display it's not true that none of it is related to illustration. For instance, one of Edwin Austin Abbey's Shakespeare paintings is on display. A direct outgrowth of illustration work he did for Harper's. Robert Frederick Blum's work, "The Ameya" there is at least related to the Japanese illustration work he did for Scribner's Magazine. Frederic Remington's also wrapped up in illustration (not to mention Winslow Homer.)

(And that's even leaving aside the new "visible storage" where there is other illustration on display.

The Met owns four Rockwell paintings, but they don't seem particularly distinguished to me. One is a purchase from 1953 and three are a gift from the 80s. The purchase is a study for the four freedoms series.

But the Met's American painting galleries only tell a story up to the Ashcan school (many of whom were initially illustrators) and ending in 1920. So Rockwell is too late for that story. Leyendecker's on the bubble... and I think a case can be made that what is in the the last gallery there is better and more important than Leyendecker's work of the time period.
posted by Jahaza at 10:58 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]


One of the problems is that works on paper (e.g. poster lithographs/etchings vs. paintings) don't show up in the permanent galleries of museums as frequently because of their fragility.
posted by Jahaza at 11:01 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Wow. That Saturday Evening Post cover is gayer than a stack of Tom of Finland books. Like, Out or The Advocate would probably call that cover "a bit too much". 1932 was a different time.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:06 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


What specifically in that cover is gay, Cookiebastard?
posted by Nelson at 11:19 AM on June 5


What specifically in that cover is gay, Cookiebastard?

The feelings I have when I see it.

*ahem*

But, um, you don't see that as an obviously intentionally homoerotic piece of art?

I'll be in my bunk
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:43 AM on June 5 [5 favorites]


SAL NOOOOO

(sorry wrong thread)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:16 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


> What specifically in that cover is gay, Cookiebastard

The slouchy crew socks.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:28 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


These are fascinating because they come from a time when American masculinity was not defined so explicitly and exclusively in homophobic terms. Seeing them now, knowing the artist's biography, we can see the "obvious" homoeroticism in them, but 100 years ago manly men being manly men in close physical proximity to each other's bare bodies was not nearly as suspect as it is today.

That's not what's going on; Leyendecker's illustrated male subjects are intentionally idealized and sexually arousing, whether they're alone or in a group. There's a long history of portraying American masculinity via physical closeness (which continues today), but the homoeroticism of that is a byproduct. Anyone attracted to men seeing Leyendecker's work 100 years ago would have found the intent just as obvious (if only based on the conjecture that if a drawing of a man putting on outdated socks still works as sexy today then it definitely would have been in less libertine times).
posted by deathmaven at 1:05 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


you don't see that as an obviously intentionally homoerotic piece of art?

It's obviously homoerotic. Whether it was obviously intentionally homoerotic is another question. After all, the men on that cover are contemporary with Socialist Realist Man, Mussolini's new virile man, and the men of the Physical Culture movement (which attracted a lot of gay men, but which was not, itself, a gay movement), etc. It's a model of masculinity in reaction against the aestheticized man of the fin de siècle, the decadent man of Max Nordau, the smallness of urban life, etc. There's a fear of homosexuality behind that, of course, but it's a fear of effeminacy, not of manly men doing oh-so-manly things together. So while it's probably true that Leyendecker knew he was drawing beefcake, his beefcake was also an image of masculinity that his contemporary heterosexuals found comforting.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:18 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


Whether it's intentionally "homoerotic" may be a question but it's clear that those men are supposed to be sexually arousing. Those examples you linked prove it. They have the same subject matter (nearly nude men) yet lack any obvious sexualization, while Leyendecker's men look like pinups.
posted by deathmaven at 1:53 PM on June 5


Whether it's intentionally "homoerotic" may be a question but it's clear that those men are supposed to be sexually arousing.

Could you provide some grounds for this assertion based on relevant cultural material from the period instead of just repeating the same statement over again?
posted by winna at 3:13 PM on June 5


I left the "why is this gay" question there to be provocative but not to start a flamewar. I think it's striking how much we've sexualized, if not outright pornographized, imagery of athletic young men. I see it on the same continuum that explains why YMCA swimming pools were all nude, urinals were troughs, and mens locker rooms had open showers instead of privacy stalls. I think this kind of sexualizing of male beauty limits what it means to be male in our culture and it makes me a little sad.

In a way the whole metrosexual thing has been a nice counterbalance, the idea that heterosexual men can also attend to their appearance and be elegant and it just be a man trying to look attractive.

I feel certain that gay men in the 20s loved these images for being erotic. And The Whelk's citation of Valentino is a useful reminder that there was homophobic mockery of effete men in that era too. But there was also an overculture of honoring handsome, athletic men being manly that was not a gay thing. I think these Leyendecker images are coming from a very different place than, say, Tom of Finland.
posted by Nelson at 4:24 PM on June 5


Is this a good thread to post the most amazing coffeecup I own?

I'm still chuckling at "Calorie Solanas".
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:26 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I've been wondering why his art is suddenly all over Tumblr. My favorite.
posted by immlass at 6:49 PM on June 5


Almost everyone looks so wealthy in this art. Is it just the ones chosen for this article? Is it because they're mostly ads?
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:12 PM on June 5


People interested in the wider topic under discussion here might want to look into the National Portrait Gallery's show Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. An ad by Leyendecker for Arrow shirts was in the show. There's been a lot written about the exhibition since it was at a Smithsonian institution and some people objected to some of the more confrontational works in it, and there's a good catalogue as well.
posted by PussKillian at 2:28 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I see it on the same continuum that explains why YMCA swimming pools were all nude, urinals were troughs, and mens locker rooms had open showers instead of privacy stalls. I think this kind of sexualizing of male beauty limits what it means to be male in our culture and it makes me a little sad.

But the YMCA, public urinals and men's locker rooms were at that time signficant loci of gay male sexual activity. I think this kind of de-sexualizing of male beauty limits what it means to be male in our culture and it makes me really mad.
posted by layceepee at 3:36 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


My comment (quoting a quote from the main article):"Norman Rockwell worshipped Leyendecker, but bad-mouthed him to death in his own biography..."


The corpse in the library: Two people in the comments say that isn't accurate, though. I haven't read Rockwell's biography myself.

Norman Rockwell did indeed bad-mouth the legendary Leyendecker - as a fellow artist and as a friend - in Rockwell's own "as told to" autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator.

(Whether or not Rockwell ever took public pot shots at a brilliant man he also greatly admired & professed to like personally has been gnawing at me. I couldn't locate the text of Rockwell's memoir online so - far too late for this thread but hey-ho! - I finally trotted off to the amazingly good local public library & checked out an original 1960 edition of the 400 page memoir.)

In the memoir, Rockwell's real venom is directed at the "weasel" Beach - "He was a real parasite -like some huge, white, cold insect clinging to Joe's [i.e J.C. Leyendecker's] back.."

Although to be somewhat fair to Rockwell, he does at least bother to build a case of sorts against Beach as a physically gorgeous man but otherwise a selfish, pouting, ensnaring monster who wasn't remotely an intellectually worthy companion of the great illustrator. It is also Rockwell's opinion that Beach was the cause of Leyendecker's descent into a self-sabotaging reclusive lifestyle.

At the same time, Rockwell is quite the prim little Judas towards Leyendecker too, observing slyly (p. 197): "It was perhaps true that there had always been more technique than feeling in [his work]...And technique alone is a pretty hollow thing..."

"Now that Joe had isolated himself from life" [Rockwell is referring to Charles Beach and Leyendecker living together & shunning all other social life] "his work became even emptier than before. You can't do human-interest pictures from an ivory tower (a commercial ivory tower, but an ivory tower nevertheless). You've got to go out and meet people, see what everybody's doing. Maybe people don't change radically, but the surface of things does. And the surface is very important in illustration - the kind of clothes people are wearing, the houses they're living in, what they're talking about. Joe didn't know any of this. And besides, there was a lot he'd never known. Women, for instance. Joe could never paint a woman with any sympathy. I think he realized that something was missing in his painting...."

There is also an oddly detailed & coolly detached description by Rockwell of Leyendecker's slide from national fame into total obscurity after he was dropped from the Saturday Evening Post, and how he ended his days doing hackwork to pay his & Beach's bills. Rockwell even diagnosed Leyendecker as suffering from something he called an almost morbid timidity. (Leyendecker died in 1951, Beach in 1952 -i.e. some years before the Rockwell book).

And a little earlier in the same section, Rockwell writes (p. 191): "Whenever I come upon a painting of his in a book or hear his name mentioned I see him in his studio or standing straight and stiff before my easel, his hands jammed into the pockets of his jacket, his chin thrust out a little, tearing my picture to pieces. You never asked Joe...what he thought of your painting unless you wanted a real critique..."

Fwiw, I imagine Rockwell genuinely regretted the way his "as told to" recollections of the great Leyendecker came across as much too harsh and uncharitable in cold print. You do get a sense that Rockwell was profoundly exasperated and angered by his friend's strange relationship with Beach and that this stung Rockwell into being far snider than he intended when assessing Leyendecker's incredible talent.

(Such regret may explain why Rockwell vociferously praises Leyendecker in interviews that appeared later than his 1960 memoir).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:32 AM on June 11 [5 favorites]


Wow, Jody, thank you for that amazing comment!
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:31 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]


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