In the last post I mentioned that some, critical of Leyendecker’s work, say that his characters (especially his women) look a bit distant or perhaps mechanical. I can see that, but I’m not bothered by it in the least.
Here are more samples of Saturday Evening Post covers that tell another tale about J.C. Leyendecker.
These might come across as oddly effeminate. This is not surprising since Leyendecker was, in fact, gay (if you didn’t already know that). It needed to be mentioned here however because that fact is interesting in looking at some of his best images.
Being a gay man during the time he lived was a huge taboo so he remained in the closet his entire life. Yet one of his main clients was the "Saturday Evening Post". I think it’s funny to look back at his work and see so many seemingly homosexual images on the cover of a very mainstream, conservative, and hugely popular magazine. The millions of folks who got the magazine probably didn’t catch what he was subtly (or not so subtly) throwing at them. Perhaps the publishes were gay as well.
Whether you look at his Post covers or his advertising art, you see an awful lot of muscular men exchanging longing looks or come hither stares. In the ad image below, one man watches another as he fondles his, um... shaft.
And when there is a woman present, many times she seems either oddly detached or ignored completely, as in the Arrow ad below.
In the next image there seems to be a sneaky three way connection between the three service “men”. The woman is again ignored.
In this next ad, instead of gazing into each others eyes, one model stairs at the others genitals. Funny how the fedora is placed just so.
In an earlier post I talked about Leyendecker’s ability to render flesh in such a way that it resembled porcelain. One of the reasons for that, aside from the medium he used, was the reference he set up, right in front of him. He would bring these beefcake models into his studio, oil those boys up and down, and light them just so. All that was left to do was to apply those amazing rendering and painting talents of his.
After successfully placing so many of these kinds of ad images in front of mainstream America, by the time he was doing cover art for America’s most popular magazine, Leyendecker must have thought “What can’t I get away with?”.
There are a precious few books out there on J.C. Leyendecker. The fist which came out in the 1970s is out of print, and had bad reproductions of his work.
The second is a poster book of some of his best work with biographical information in the front.
The third book, which just came out just a couple years ago, has by far the most numerous and best reproductions of his work. Most images were shot from the original paintings, as opposed to old scans of already printed magazine ads and covers, so you can really see the paint texture. It’s not very well written however, but it is comprehensive.