Rediscovering J.C. Leyendecker & the Creation of the Perfect American Male
By Jerry Portwood
Although it may seem like a decidedly contemporary trend to exploit masculine beauty to sell everything from underwear to shampoo, Collector's Weekly has published a fascinating article that looks back at J.C. Leyendecker's illustration and how he defined the image of the American male in the early and mid 20th century. In the story, Alfredo Villanueva-Collado, a former CUNY literature professor and collector of Leyendecker's work, explains the research he has done into the gay artist and illustrator's past.
"Leyendecker had a fascination with asses, with muscles, and it was so evident. I kept wondering, how come nobody else says this? It’s right in your face, for heaven’s sake," Villanueva-Collado explains. "I found it extremely interesting that there were three brothers–of which both Frank and J.C. turned out gay–and a sister, Augusta, who never married."
Leyendecker is best remembered for creating the "Arrow Collar Man" in 1905, which created a frenzy and became his most iconic creation. He went on to illustrate 322 covers for The Saturday Evening Post, but has been overshadowed by his younger peer, Norman Rockwell, and his tame version of Americana. As Villanueva-Collado points out: "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."
Although amateurs are looking into his work (including his studies and references for finished work), it seems that the history of Leyendecker and his influence on American imagery deserves much more academic and critical analysis. And, to many, even more extraordinary may be the fact that, during a time of perceived prejudice, Leyendecker and Beach had been together for 50 years when Leyendecker died in 1951.