After reading Hide/Seek, I became interested in illustrator J. C. (Joseph Christian) Leyendecker, so I looked around for a good book to read about him. Eventually, I settled on J.C. Leyendecker (2008) by Laurence S. Cutler, Judy Goffman Cutler, and the National Museum of American Illustration. This book is a wonderful collection of Leyendecker’s illustrations accompanied by excellent essays about the Golden Age of American Illustration, Leyendecker’s life, and Leyendecker’s distinctive work. I enjoyed reading (and looking at) it!
Leyendecker’s importance in the history of early twentieth-century American illustration can’t be overstated. He produced over 300 covers for The Saturday Evening Post and was one of, if not the, most popular advertising illustrators of the 1920s and 30s. His images became iconographic representations of sophisticated, urban American chic.
Leyendecker was also gay, and his illustrations often incorporate homoerotic imagery. I find the way this book discusses this element of his art to be very interesting:
Knowing that revealing his secret would threaten his popularity and success, Joe never came out of the closet…. He also attempted to conceal his sexual orientation in his work, which was often characterized by heterosexual female adoration for handsome males depicted in overtly erotic poses. Yet, ironically, he was the most manifest homosexual artist of the early twentieth century–a virtual hero–as his work clearly demonstrates to today’s enlightened audience.
To create such delicious illustrations, he smoothed oils on models’ muscles, enhancing the light reflecting on male surfaces he admired most: one model said that Joe always painted him in a darkened studio, with only candlelight highlighting the erotic qualities of his gleaming form. The gay subculture saw the irony in his work and appreciated the erotic images he lavished upon the world.
These homoerotic images appealed to heterosexual viewers as well, however. In a subtle subversion of heterosexual mores, unattractive men turned to them in their quest to be more appealing through the products being advertised. Sportsmen never saw the football players’ images as anything but manly, for they reveled in the enthusiasm created among the fans. College men, particularly Ivy Leaguers and prep school chums, were proud that their alma maters were highlighted. And most of all, women were drawn to Joe’s images, dreaming of intimacies with men who possessed “The Leyendecker Look.”
While Leyendecker was not publicly out, he did have a partner, Charles A. Beach (1886-1952), whose image is sometimes featured in Leyendecker’s work, as in this illustration, which is included in the Hide/Seek exhibit:
Beach is on the left. Beach is also the model featured in the book’s cover illustration.