Meet J.C. Leyendecker, American illustrator
December 21, 2002 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Meet J. C. Leyendecker, the Golden Boy of American Illustration. He helped codify the modern image of Santa Claus. His Baby New Year covers for the Saturday Evening Post invented a pop culture icon. He was "the most out front closeted gay man of the twentieth century" - a hugely popular artist whose work was often clearly homoerotic. The young Norman Rockwell used to stalk him and once said, "Leyendecker was my god." In 1905, he created advertising's first male sex symbol, the Arrow Shirt Man, which "defined the ideal American male" for decades, got more fan mail than Valentino and inspired a 1923 Broadway play. A detailed, opinionated biography and 14 pages of gorgeous Post covers.
posted by mediareport (5 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That cover art of a French poilu enthusiastically bussing a surprised and bemused American doughboy is probably not intended to be "clearly homoerotic" so much as, at most Leyendecker's idea of an gentle inside-joke double-entendre. Considering when Leyendecker painted it, depicting any hint of homosexuality wasn't safe other than as a relatively tame wisecrack, and the Allies' welcoming America into the Great War was highly topical -- "Lafayette, nous voila" and all that.
posted by alumshubby at 7:21 PM on December 21, 2002

Great links, mediareport - I always loved the historic Arrow shirt ad illustrations, but never did any digging to learn about the artist behind them. To see his entire body of work is most impressive and lovely. The window to his personal life adds an interesting dimension. Good post, thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 10:30 PM on December 21, 2002

Great links. Especially enjoyed the Arrow ads, and understanding the connection and obvious similarities to Rockwell. Thanks.
posted by hama7 at 11:05 PM on December 21, 2002

probably not intended to be "clearly homoerotic" so much as, at most Leyendecker's idea of an gentle inside-joke double-entendre.

A "gentle inside-joke" it is, then, alumshubby. I could have used other examples (there are plenty of virile athletes that are lovingly painted, for instance), but the kiss and the soldier looking right at the reader were too fun to pass up. I suppose Leyendecker's closeted life (except at home, where he lived with the first Arrow Collar Man, his lover Charles Beach) makes it easy to ascribe homoeroticism to any of his male figures, but once you know who he was and when he lived, it's awfully hard to not see those two soldiers, or paintings like these, in at least a slightly different light. And, ahem, I give you Leyendecker's St. Valentine.

The thinly veiled erotic charge is undeniable in Leyendecker's commercial work; it built at least two companies, permanently changed modern advertising and captivated millions of Americans for a long time.

[Speaking of Arrow Collar Men, the history of detachable shirt collars is itself interesting, including the origin of the term "white collar worker," the creation from scratch of a brand-new industry based in Troy, NY - aka "Collar City" - and the first women's labor union in the U.S. More here.]
posted by mediareport at 9:07 AM on December 22, 2002

The site you first linked to has dozens of other fantastic illustrators. I'll be reading all morning. Thanks!
posted by snez at 10:25 AM on December 22, 2002

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