My bad, I may or may not have forgotten about my Gay Pride tribute series. Sometimes I just get excited and over stimulated, then I can’t be counted on to do anything. Apologies to anyone who was paying attention (ie: no one).
But, I specifically wanted to talk about Leyendecker for this series, as he was not commonly known as being homosexual but yet was a HUGE influence for the art world today. His story is interesting, as well, and I have to suggest that if you are interested in learning more about this artist to buy the book, created by the absolutely phenomenal Judy Goffman Cutler (who, if you are ever in the area, is the founder of The American Illustrators Gallery in NYC and the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, RI. Visiting the AIG in NYC was one of the most inspiring moments of my artistic career, and I must impress the importance of going there.)
Ok, enough name dropping. Joseph Christian Leyendecker was to American Illustration as Norman Rockwell was to, well….American Illustration. The two men were so synonymous in their careers that a few people can not tell their art apart: Namely, both artists made their name in the Golden Age of Illustration, feasting audience’s eyes on beautifully crisp advertisement illustrations and made their career through doing the covers for the Saturday Evening Post (Normal Rockwell came 20 years later and outwardly spoke of his direct influence from Leyendecker). There is an incredibly limited amount of information on the artist, of which the reasons I will explain more on later.
I would suggest Wikipedia or, again, the visual biography, if you want to know more biographical details. So, Leyendecker was a homosexual in a time where it was pretty dang tough to be one – he led such a private life and kept such evidence tightly secured that the only real proof for the common person is his slightly obsessive (and at times, symbolic) hand at drawing thousands of young, handsome men with a heterosexual eye could never command. Perhaps this is why he was so well sought after- he drew his men so handsomely that, to quote the great Austin Powers ,”Women wanted to be with him. Men wanted to BE him.” The perfectly chiseled jaw. The crisp collar. The prominent nose and awe-inspiring meticulously styled hair. OOohhhf. I’m getting all hot and bothered over here just writing this. It is a running gag among Leyendecker enthusiasts of how, well, ugly him women could be in contrast to his absolutely perfect men.
Leyendecker did have a partner/mate, Charles Beach. And, according to sources, he was a real dick. He started off as Leyendecker’s primary model/lover, and as JCL began to trust him more, and as Charles became more and more the idealized and idolized male in all of Leyendecker’s pictures (a role Charles did, admittedly, fit perfectly) then began to do menial tasks such as purchasing paint, stretching canvas and booking additional models. Soon, he was Leyendecker’s full-on manager of sorts, pushing any and every other person in the artist’s life slowly, but steadily, out. Leyendecker was incredily happy though, even finding it amusing that Charles thought himself an equal part in the creative process to Leyendecker. After Leyendecker died in 1951, Charles was asked (by Leyendecker in private before “departing”) to destroy all of Leyendecker’s sketches and paintings in their possession – as well as all personal documents and notes. Charles presumably died of a broken heart less than a year later.
So, there you have it. Let us all bask in the irony of the All American male of the era being a flaming queer.
And, if you are on the West Coast, checking out the Leyendecker collection at the Higgin museum near Sacramento – it is seriously worth the drive.