DescriptionJOSEPH CHRISTIAN LEYENDECKER (American, 1874-1951)
New Year's Baby (Cleaning Up), The Saturday Evening Post cover, January 1915
Oil on canvas
30 x 21-1/2 inches (76.2 x 54.6 cm)
Signed with monogram lower right: JCLeyendecker
Signed and inscribed verso: p 35121 / New Years cover / Leyendecker
M. Schau, J.C. Leyendecker, New York, 1974, p. 180, illustrated.
J.C. Leyendecker and The Saturday Evening Post
Along with Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker was the premier cover illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, establishing its distinctive "look" through popular all-American characters. Leyendecker's rise in the illustration world exactly paralleled the modernization of the magazine 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 forty years, he created another 321 covers, his last one in 1941, four years after Lorimer had retired and the magazine assumed a new style. Between 1908-13, Leyendecker and one other illustrator, Harrison Fisher, produced forty percent of the Post's cover art, and during the 1920s, at the height of his career, Leyendecker produced 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. Lorimer trusted Leyendecker's perfectionism, his carefully contoured compositions and decisive brushwork that he allowed him (and later Rockwell) to submit sketches rather than finished paintings as cover designs.
Heritage is pleased to offer four iconic Leyendecker Post covers from three different decades, each showcasing a different character and topical issue: the New Year's baby and World War I (January 2, 1915), the candidate and American patriotism (September 18, 1920), the all-American hero and holiday traditions (November 24, 1928), and the African-American worker and the New Deal (October 19, 1935).
J.C. Leyendecker's most famous recurring Saturday Evening Post character was the New Year's baby, debuting on the cover of the December 29, 1906 issue. At first, Leyendecker's cherubic baby appeared on various holiday covers, including Easter and the Fourth of July, but editor George Horace Lorimer soon made the decision 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 World War I, or economic recovery. The American public could easily rally behind a cause promoted by an endearing, innocent baby.
In this 1915 Post cover, Cleaning Up, the New Year's baby, conveying America's disapproval of World War I at the time, sweeps away a heap of European officers' helmets. Interestingly, Leyendecker was the only Post artist who depicted war themes on covers, and over the course of World War I, his New Year's baby frequently changed guises: on the December 29, 1917 cover, the baby, having now joined the war effort, stands at attention with a sword, and on the December 28, 1918 cover, a pacifist baby, celebrating the end of the war, releases a dove from a cage. Leyendecker also addressed America's sentiments during World War II, his January 2, 1943 cover, for example, showing a helmeted New Year's baby bayoneting a Nazi swastika.
Before 1926, the Post printed covers in a limited palette of red, black, grey, and white, and Leyendecker uses those same predominant colors in the cover art for Cleaning Up, adding only touches of yellow and brown.
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