DescriptionJoseph Christian Leyendecker (American, 1874-1951)
New Year's Baby , The Saturday Evening Post cover, December 28, 1918
Oil on canvas
27 x 19 inches (68.6 x 48.3 cm)
Signed lower right: JCLeyendecker
PROPERTY FROM THE SORDONI COLLECTION
Sale: Butterscotch Auction Gallery, Bedford, New York, October 17, 2000;
Charles Martignette, acquired from the above;
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Museum of American Illustration at The Society of Illustrators, New York, "American Abroad: J.C. Leyendecker and the European Influence on American Illustration," May 21-July 12, 2008, no. 83;
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, "J.C. Leyendecker and The Saturday Evening Post," March 21-June 14, 2015;
Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, "Selections from the Sordoni Collection: American Illustration & Comic Art," April 7-May 20, 2018.
"Butterscotch Auction Gallery sets record for Leyendecker cover," Antiques and the Arts Weekly, November 26, 1999;
"J.C. Leyendecker Illustration sets new Auction Record for Leyendecker cover," Paper Collectors Marketplace, January 2000, p. 4, illustrated;
A.A. Carter, J.F. Zankel, T. Brown, Americans Abroad: J.C. Leyendecker and the European Influence on American Illustration, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2008, n.p., no. 83;
L.S. Cutler and J.G. Cutler, J.C. Leyendecker, American Imagist, New York, 2008, p. 128, illustrated;
S.I. Grand, Selections from the Sordoni Collection: American Illustration & Comic Art, exhibition catalogue, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 2018, pp. 44-45, 145, nos. 16, 39, illustrated.
Heritage is honored to offer J.C. Leyendecker's New Year's Baby  a century after it appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post commemorating the November 11, 1918 Armistice ending World War I. Here, a twinkly-eyed, towheaded cherub, symbol of fresh beginnings, releases a dove of peace. Bold graphic design-stylized "1919" numbers and black "racing stripes" recalling the bars of the birdcage-and confident, gestural rendering of the human form underscore why Leyendecker was the premier Post illustrator at the time. The present work ranks among Leyendecker's most famous Post covers, not merely by referencing an especially momentous historical event, but also by featuring his most iconic magazine character, the New Year's baby.
Leyendecker's rise in the illustration world exactly paralleled the modernization of The Saturday Evening Post from 1899-1937 under editor George Horace Lorimer, who sought to broaden readership by appealing to the "average American" - hardworking, patriotic, practical, and wholesome middle-class men and women. Toward this end, each issue featured mainstream news articles, human-interest stories, editorials, cartoons, and poetry and fiction by such notables as Agatha Christie, Scott Fitzgerald, Carl Sandburg, and John Steinbeck. Cover and interior illustrations used humor and stock types--children, athletes, courting couples, and Santa Claus--to reiterate themes of patriotism, the happy nuclear family, traditional holidays, and hope for a better tomorrow.
Leyendecker designed his first cover for the Post in 1899, and over the next 40 years, he created another 323 covers, his last one in 1943, six years after Lorimer had retired and the magazine assumed a new style. During the 1920s, at the height of his career, Leyendecker cranked out one cover per month for $1,500 per cover. His eagerly awaited holiday covers, particularly for New Year's, were his most memorable and helped transform the Post into the most widely circulated weekly magazine in America.
Leyendecker's most beloved Post character was the New Year's baby, debuting on the cover of the December 29, 1906 issue as a winged girl sitting on a globe and turning over a new page in a book. At first, the cherubic baby graced various holiday covers, including Easter and the Fourth of July, but Lorimer soon decided to use the baby exclusively as a New Year's symbol of America's major current issue, such as women's suffrage, Prohibition, entry into WW I, or economic recovery during the Depression. Leyendecker's war-themed New Year's covers particularly grabbed readers' attention: a baby sweeping into a pile the military caps of world leaders engaged in battle (1915), standing at attention and reporting for duty with a sword and helmet (1918), sporting a gas mask (1940), gripping a rifle and protecting a globe (1942), or bayoneting a Nazi swastika (1943). The American public could easily rally behind a cause, however violent, promoted by a cute, pure baby.
Indeed, the New Year's baby functioned as a brilliant marketing tool. Unlike the kissable, saccharine babies of period advertisements selling household products, like talcum power, diapers, or oatmeal, to women, Leyendecker's New Year's baby, by coupling a baby with a serious current event, attracted men and women alike. Physically, the New Year's baby differed from the fairy-like, sentimental babies of illustrators such as Jessie Willcox Smith and Bessie Pease Gutman. Leyendecker's New Year's baby, while fleshy and adorable, was solidly built (even muscular), strong, and convicted in performing adult activities, whether flying an airplane, swinging a pickaxe, pounding metal on an anvil, or balancing on a tightrope. Indeed, the New Year's baby was a proxy for the American adult. This curious, even unsettling infusing of adult behavior into the cute physical package of a child ensured that readers would do a double take and buy the magazine. Morphing adult and child also prompted readers to consider their own role in current events and how to make the world a better place for children of the next generation.
With its message of world peace, New Year's Baby  would have powerfully resonated with the American public, who were still reeling from the various horrors of 1918. Author Stanley Grand summarizes the devastation of WW I: "The carnage was unprecedented: 18 million deaths, of which 7 million were civilians. The destruction was apocalyptic: Shelling, mortars, and bombs reduced entire cities to rubble, yet for the most part, the war was an extended stalemate, fought from opposing trenches that snaked from the North Sea to the Franco-Swiss border. . . . New technology-poison gas, tanks, and airplanes, finally enabled the Allies to slowly gain victory and led to the German surrender" (S. Grand, Selections from the Sordoni Collection: American Illustration & Comic Art, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 2018, p. 44). Compounding the devastation of war, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, claimed as many as 50 million worldwide, including some 675,000 Americans-more than were killed in battle.
New Year's Baby , a clarion call for world peace, is perhaps Leyendecker's most timeless Post cover, poignant even today, 100 years later.
Framed Dimensions 32 X 23.75 Inches
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