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An Icon of American Advertising J. C. Leyendecker: America's "Other" Illustrator at the Morris Museum of Art
J. C. Leyendecker, Kellogg’s Kid, Girl About 8-10, 1916. The Haggin Museum, Stockton, California.

AUGUSTA, GA.- Before Norman Rockwell became famous, there was J. C. Leyendecker—the nation's most popular and successful commercial artist of the first four decades of the twentieth century. The Morris Museum of Art exhibits J.C. Leyendecker: America’s “Other” Illustrator—more than fifty paintings, sketches, original magazine covers, and advertisements by Leyendecker from the collection of the Haggin Museum in Stockton, California.

“Leyendecker’s popularity and commercial success, especially at the Saturday Evening Post, resulted directly from his uncanny talent for conveying the spirit of daily life in early twentieth-century America through works of art that incorporated a wide range of emotions, from patriotism to whimsy,” commented Jay Williams, curator of the Morris Museum of Art.

The paintings in this exhibition are part of The Haggin Museum’s permanent holdings, and they represent one of the largest collections of original work by Leyendecker in the country. The Leyendecker collection was assembled in the 1950s by former museum director Earl Rowland, following the artist’s death. The works were donated by the artist’s sister, Miss Augusta Leyendecker, B. Kuppenheimer & Company, the Interwoven Sock Company, and Kellogg’s. Additional work was purchased through the Bordas Gallery in New Rochelle, New York.

The exhibition remains on view at the Morris through January 11, 2009. This is its last appearance as part of an eight-city, two-and-a-half year, national tour. The tour was developed and managed by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, an exhibition tour development company in Kansas City, Missouri.

Artist Biography - Born at Montabaur in Southwest Germany, Joseph Christian Leyendecker came to America with his parents in 1882. The family settled in Chicago. Recognizing their son’s artistic abilities, his parents allowed him to apprentice at the Chicago engraving house of J. Manz and Company, where he eventually advanced to a full-time position as staff artist. At night, he attended classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under the direction of John H. Vanderpoel.

In September 1896 Leyendecker left Chicago to study in Paris for two years at the Academie Julian and Colarossi’s, two of that city’s most celebrated art schools. The internationally famous salon painter Adolphe William Bouguereau, as well as the highly regarded instructors Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens at the Academie, recognized Leyendecker’s talent and gave him an opportunity to display his work in a solo exhibition at the Salon Champs du Mars—a breakaway exhibition organized by some of the more important artists of France, such as Puvis de Chavannes and Auguste Rodin, who were younger and more progressive, but generally not as radical as the Impressionists.

Walking the streets of Paris, ablaze with the vibrant poster art of Jules Chéret, Alphonse Mucha, and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Leyendecker came to the realization that a talented artist could earn both critical acclaim and monetary reward as a commercial illustrator. While still in Paris he began illustrating covers for the Chicago-based magazine, The Inland Printer.

Leyendecker returned to Chicago in the summer of 1897 and illustrated his first cover artwork for Collier’s magazine a year later. Over the next ten years, he produced forty-seven more. Just before the turn of the century, he received a commission to produce an image for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the first of three hundred and twenty-two covers he produced for the magazine between 1899 and 1943—more than any other artist, including Norman Rockwell.

In 1905, Leyendecker received what was arguably his most important commission. He was hired by Cluett, Peabody & Company to develop a series of images of the Arrow Brand of shirt collars. Leyendecker’s “Arrow Collar Man,” as well as the images he later created for Kuppenheimer Suits and Interwoven Socks, came to define the fashionable American male during the early decades of the twentieth century. The “Arrow Collar Man” received more fan mail from women and young girls than most film and stage actors of the day.

Another important commission for Leyendecker was from Kellogg’s, the breakfast food manufacturer. As part of a major advertising campaign, he created a series of twenty “Kellogg’s Kids” to promote Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. These images of babies, small children, and teenagers are as winsome and winning today as when they were created more than ninety years ago.

By the 1940s, his popularity had begun to wane. During World War II, he produced war posters for the Armed Services, as he had also during World War I, some calendar illustrations, and cover work for William Randolph Hearst’s American Weekly magazine, but not much else. Though busy, he was hardly omnipresent, as he seemed to be in earlier years. In 1951, at the age of 77, Leyendecker suffered a heart attack and died at his home/studio in New Rochelle, New York.

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