Norman Rockwell and His Mentor,
In many ways, the man whose name is considered to be synonymous with American illustration – Norman Rockwell – modeled himself on a now lesser-known artist, but one of his self proclaimed idols, J.C. Leyendecker.
One of the most prolific and sought-after artists of the Golden Age of American illustration, J.C. Leyendecker captivated the public with his striking, fashionable depictions of handsome men and glamorous women. With his instantly identifiable style – “The Leyendecker Look” – he helped shape the face of a nation, created dozens of enduring icons, and virtually invented the concept of branding in advertising.
In 1960, Rockwell included a chapter on Leyendecker in his biography, My Adventures as an Illustrator. In that chapter, entitled ‘The Mansion on Mount Tom Road,’ Rockwell admitted to having followed Leyendecker around New Rochelle, New York, emulating Leyendecker’s swagger, or limp as it were, and “attitude.” In the 1920’s, the American public overwhelmingly considered Leyendecker to be “the best illustrator.” As a budding young artist with high hopes of rising to that same exalted plateau – the preeminent Saturday Evening Post cover artist – Rockwell was utterly consumed by Leyendecker and his unique art.
Rockwell virtually did everything possible to imitate Leyendecker. He analyzed how J.C. developed his image ideas. He studied that singular style and technique, using in his own work the same broad white background strokes and painted caricatures of characters he invented. He imitated Leyendecker so completely the public became confused as to the source: Leyendecker or Rockwell? While Leyendecker received little adulation or credit for his truly iconic images, Rockwell took de facto credit for creating quintessential American icons. It is generally accepted that Rockwell established the best-known visual images of Americana but not many iconic images, certainly not to the degree that Leyendecker did.
Eventually, Rockwell replaced Leyendecker in America’s collective consciousness and took the crown as America’s greatest illustrator. Norman Rockwell and his Mentor, J.C. Leyendecker is a ground breaking and eye opening exhibition for many who love Rockwell and have wondered where he got his influences.