The Husband & I have a lovely J.C. Leyendecker coffee table book that has provided a great deal of viewing enjoyment over the past 3 decades. We had a framed print of one his advertisements for Ivory Soap. This print portrays an improbably handsome jazz age man preparing for his bath (the picture is now in owned by my dear friend Lil'Jake, the Portland designer & rapper). This piece is virile & All-American, yet homoerotic & stirring. Leyendecker was the most famous American illustrators during the first half of the 20th century, the Golden Age of American commercial illustration.
Leyendecker was responsible over 400 covers for leading magazines of the era, including The Saturday Evening Post. He created powerful advertising images like the Arrow Collar Man, an icon of masculinity, & the first male sex symbol & the first male advertising star. Ironic… Leyendecker was a homosexual & the model for the Arrow Collar Man was his lover. Leyendecker was drawn to depicting men in locker rooms, clubhouses, & workshops, extraordinarily handsome young men exchanging inexplicable glances. Few images are more overtly homoerotic than advertisements for Gillette in which scantily clad men teach each other how to use disposable razors.
Joe Leyendecker was born in Germany in 1874; his parents immigrated to America when he was very young. He grew up in Chicago. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago & spent several months in Paris in the 1890s with his younger brother Frank, also gay & also an artist. The brothers eventually moved to New York as they started to get more commissions.
In 1903, a striking young man appeared at their Greenwich Village studio.. His name was Charles A. Beach. Frank immediately hired him in Joe's absence. When Joe returned, Frank graciously allowed his brother the use of his model. Joe & Charles Beach were inseparable, both personally & professionally, for the next 48 years. Joe was 29 & Charles was 17 years old.
In 1914, the Leyendeckers brothers, & Beach, moved into a large home that served as their art studio in New Rochelle, New York, where they would reside for the rest of their lives. They hosted large parties attended by notables from all walks of life including F. Scott & Zelda. Frank died in 1924 of drug addiction. In the 1930s Leyendecker’s commissions began to dry up. Norman Rockwell, who was obsessed with Leyendecker & was very much influenced by him, replaced him as the best known illustrator in America.
Leyendecker, who was always very shy, would spend the last years of his life secluded in the house he had built in New Rochelle. He died in 1951. Charles Beach destroyed all of Leyendecker’s papers & unseen works on his death. Beach died a few weeks later.