American Art Archives' own Thomas Clement weigns in.
NOTE: I’m not publishing any of the names of any of the dissenters because, frankly, everybody makes mistakes. I have books on art on my shelves by people who really know what they’re talking about (for the most part), and yet, those books contain boo-boos. I’ve spoken to experts who’ve also made boo-boos. I’ve made boo-boos. Boo-boos happen. So, no names. I’m not out to embarrass anyone, just make the case for the authenticity of the Leyendecker studies.
My wife called me over to her computer. There was an image on the screen. “What does this look like to you?”
“That,” I said, “looks like a Leyendecker.”
“How about this one?”
An auction house had several such studies up, many with the attribution “After J C Leyendecker.” My wife and I requested larger images be e-mailed to us. After examining them, we came to the conclusion that these weren’t “after” Leyendecker at all, but were actual studies by his hand. The real deal!
We won all of the auctions. The amazing thing is, if another expert hadn’t told the owner of the art that they weren’t really Leyendeckers, we could never have afforded them. And fortunately for us, the expert was incorrect.
The reasons for our assertion are easy enough. First, if these studies are “after” Leyendecker, they’re by an artist who can duplicate every bit of what made Leyendecker’s style his own. If the studies are copies, they would be, literally, by an artist so talented that he rivals Leyendecker himself.
Look at Leyendecker’s signature in these examples. Leyendecker (like Harrison Fisher, Rolf Armstrong, etc) had a complex signature that was a work of art in itself. In none of the signed studies is there any hint of a forgery of the signature. You can compare it with printed signatures of his in ads and magazines all day long and never see the tell-tale signs that even whisper, let a lone shout, “fake.”
Take a look at the very first study and the magazine cover (001). While the two images are almost exactly the same, the differences aren’t those of someone who couldn’t get the “copy” right; they’re differences in very small details. They’re purposeful. And, why would this brilliant mimic deign to only copy part of the original? Why stop at the bag of toys and just before the legs? Why not do the whole thing? Instead, it looks like any other Leyendecker study where JC worked out details of parts of what would become finished artwork.
Study 016, Trojan Weave for Kuppenheimer shows two studies, an extremely detailed study for the Trojan solider, and a rather sketchy version of his lady. Why wouldn’t our faker put as much care into one as the other? It’s reasonable to assume that the sketch of the lady is more preliminary. I’ve yet to see an ersatz preliminary.
The person who said these are “after” Leyendecker thought that they were perhaps a student’s work. I’ll leave Kent Steine to address the technical problems with that assumption, but I will tackle something mundane which he doesn’t. Student artwork (I speak from experience) is not handed in on whatever kind of backing the student wishes. And it’s certainly not handed in as bits and pieces. Nor would it have been a hodge-podge of images (something more akin to a sketchbook; and sketchbooks are done on paper only). What kind of grade could that have been for? What kind of project? Also, all of these copies would have to have been from a single student, one of the most gifted students any teacher could have ever hoped for.
There aren’t many reasons to copy another person’s work. For the beginner, it may help at a rudimentary level. But these studies reveal we’re not dealing with a rudimentary student. These are works that equal Leyendecker. What “student” could pull that off?
Of course, these could have been done by an exceptional artist for another reason: they were meant to deceive!
It may surprise the reader that forgers do not just copy multi-million dollar artists like Monet and Picasso. No, they can also counterfeit mere-million dollar artists like Rockwell and Parrish. That said, someone with as much talent as we see here would forge entire works of art, not studies. And why would these studies then be clipped into several, irregular pieces? We know that Charles Beach treated JC’s studies this way when he sold them at a yard sale; they really look like someone just cut into them, perhaps because he wasn’t sober, just to get them onto the tables to make a quick buck. Who does this sound more like: a genius student, or a sad drinker?
Lastly, why would some of these “fake” studies be in color when the printed work would appear as duotones when printed? Conversely, some of the studies are not full-color, even though the final work would be (they were destined for four-color printing). Not only would this mean the person copying it chose not to copy it in color, but was expert enough with a limited tonal palette to still get the values right anyway.
I’ve been contacted by two individuals (who shall remain nameless) who assured me that none of my pieces were by Leyendecker. The reason? These fellows had studies themselves and said studies were acquired by companies like Kuppenheimer or Curtis Publishing through some relative or acquaintance (some of these feature dedications). I’ve seen studies like these. They’re very nice. I’d love to have one myself. But they’re what Leyendecker did not have a problem giving as gifts. That’s not what I have. To be blunt, these are what Leyendecker had asked to be thrown out. Yes, I have JC Leyendecker’s “discards.” Fortunately, Beach ignored Leyendecker or these pieces would be gone forever.
Thomas Clement is co-owner of American Art Archives with his beautiful wife, Christiane. His original dream was to be a comicbook artist, but he eventually settled into just being a writer and desktop publisher who happens to be a huge fan of illustration art. And yes, "illustration" is art.