Thursday, April 07, 2011

Imperiled Illustrators: J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, and the War at “The Saturday Evening Post”

The Norman Rockwell Museum has asked TI to help spread the word about what sounds like a terrific lecture they'll be presenting this Sunday (April 10th).

From their press release:

As a young artist, Norman Rockwell greatly admired the work and celebrity of illustrator Joe Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951), who had become a household name during the early twentieth century.


Known for his stylized illustrations for such leading periodicals as “The Saturday Evening Post” (over 300 covers, including his annual New Year Baby series); and such advertising campaigns as the debonair Arrow Collar Man, J.C. Leyendecker’s career was exactly what Rockwell dreamed of. In 1913, Rockwell relocated to the artist-rich community of New Rochelle, New York, and found himself a neighbor and eventual friend to his art school idol. Ironically, as the years progressed, Rockwell’s own artwork gained in popularity as Leyendecker’s star faded; “Joe had been the most famous illustrator in America,” wrote Rockwell in his autobiography. “Then the Post had dropped him; the advertising agencies had dropped him; the public had forgotten him. He had died in obscurity. It might happen to me.”


As part of its new Rockwell Center Lecture Series, Norman Rockwell Museum will present “Imperiled Illustrators: J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, and the War at ‘The Saturday Evening Post’,” on Sunday, April 10, starting at 11 a.m. Dr. Jennifer A. Greenhill*, Assistant Professor of Art History at The University of Illinois in Champaign, will examine the moment acclaimed illustrator J.C. Leyendecker left “The Saturday Evening Post,” and Norman Rockwell took over as the magazine’s star illustrator.

The tenor of publishing during World War II, different approaches to “surface” in illustration, and the challenges that abstraction posed for artists working realistically will be explored.


After the program, a brunch will be served in Linwood House, the Museum’s 1859 Berkshire cottage. Cost to attend the lecture is $25, $20 for Museum members. Pre-registration recommended by calling 413.298.4100, ext. 260, or e-mail: mgeorgeson[at]nrm[dot]org.

More information at

* Dr. Jennifer A. Greenhill is an Assistant Professor of Art History at The University of Illinois in Champaign. She is currently on a nine month Barbara Thom Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Huntington Library in California. Dr. Greenhill specializes in nineteenth century American visual and material culture, and also publishes on American literature and on twentieth century topics. Dr. Greenhill holds a B.A. from The University of California at Los Angeles, and an M.A. from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She was awarded her Ph.D. from Yale University and her dissertation was titled, “The Plague of Jocularity: Contesting Humor in American Art and Culture, 1863-93.”

Credits for the images in today's post:

Top: Art Critic, Norman Rockwell, 1955 Oil on canvas, 39 ½" x 36 ¼" Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, April 16, 1955 Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, NRM.1998.4 ©1955 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

Middle: Artist Facing Blank Canvas, Norman Rockwell, 1938 Oil on canvas, 38 ½" x 30 ½" Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, October 8, 1938 Inscribed “To my good friends Jorj and Ben Harris” Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust, 1973.4 ©1938 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

Bottom: Rosie the Riveter, Norman Rockwell. 1943. Private collection. ©1943 SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.


  1. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Thank you for this outstanding post - we appreciate your spreading the word about the work of the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, and for all that you are doing to advance scholarship relating to the art of illustration.

    Stephanie Plunkett
    Deputy Director/Chief Curator
    Norman Rockwell Museum

  2. If I lived on the East Coast, I'd definitely go. I'm a huge fan of both Leyendecker and Rockwell, and of their personal histories in the field of illustration. I always regret missing a traveling Rockwell exhibition many years ago in San Diego, but was thrilled to visit a Leyendecker exhibition in Southern California some years later.

  3. And the subject reminds all of us in the trade: No one stays "current" forever and that the public, and the tastemakers who inform the public get bored by even the best of us if we don't change as we go.

  4. Love Leyendecker and love this post. I've a book of his work but you've offered more that I didn't have.

    What a tragedy that Leyendecker should've fallen out of favor.

    Of course, who doesn't love Rockwell!

    Love the blog: I love you, man!