Rockwell Before Rockwell…
As the premier cover illustrator for the enormously popular Saturday Evening Post for much of the first half of the 20th century, Leyendecker’s work both reflected and helped mold many of the visual aspects of the era’s culture in America. The mainstream image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red fur-trimmed coat was popularized by Leyendecker, as was the image of the New Year Baby. The tradition of giving flowers as a gift on Mother’s Day was started by Leyendecker’s May 30, 1914 Saturday Evening Post cover depicting a young bellhop carrying hyacinths. It was created as a commemoration of President Woodrow Wilson‘s declaration of Mother’s Day as an official holiday that year.
Leyendecker was a chief influence upon, and friend of, Norman Rockwell, who was a pallbearer at Leyendecker’s funeral. In particular, the early work of Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post bears a strong superficial resemblance to that of Leyendecker. While today it is generally accepted that Norman Rockwell established the best-known visual images of Americana, in many cases they are derivative of Leyendecker’s work, or reinterpretations of visual themes established by Rockwell’s idol.