American Art Archives interviews Kent Steine.
AAA: Kent, why do you think some people are making such a big thing out of the studies, going out of their way to say they aren't real? One guy called me the same day another guy called you and both made the same claims.
KENT: Everyone has an interest in the authentication of art, especially if they own work produced by the artist. It is most likely as simple as that. If these are signed counterfeit Leyendeckers of previously unseen pictures, it would imply that there was or is an artist capable of mimicking J.C. Leyendecker to the T. The concern there would be obvious. I feel this artwork is real and important: some of those pieces are historically significant to their final "versions."
AAA: One person brought up that all Leyendecker studies have sub-divisional lines.
KENT: That is not exactly correct. You're more likely to see evidence of subdivisional composition lines on a finished painting. The answer is really a procedural "thing" a non-trained artist may not understand. Your Leyendecker studies were of course, drawn from life. Leyendecker typically didn't (nor would any artist) use sub-divisional lines to execute a live sketch. It isn't out of the question, but not necessarily an indication either way. Studies that include said lines are usually "compositional" in nature, and indicative of the "overall" final layout. Remember, Leyendecker produced numerous studies. It would be ludicrous to imply that he drew out formal and informal subdivisional composition lines to paint a reference sketch of an apple, for example. He used "plumb" lines for live "life" studies and they are evident. You simply have to comprehend how he worked. If these pieces were on canvas, and had formal subdivisional composition lines, would that make a difference? Probably not.
AAA: Give me some of your impressions about the Leyendeckers studies we have up. Authentic? Not?
KENT: There is the one B&W piece where the one fellow looked like, as you say, Stravinsky. The other is the standing portrait of the Conquistador with the gun over his shoulder. Again, this may simply be an early piece (most all are) that was a smaller portion of a more "fully rendered" painting. In that example, I am looking at tell-tale aspects of draughtsmanship, such as the hands. Also, the overall "rendering" is superb, yet un-Leyendecker-like. I don't feel that these belong to the same hand that produced many of the others. I refer to the main pieces such as the Santa and boy.
AAA: You and I have discussed that someone has said that these studies were probably the work of a student, most likely in Frank Reilly's class.
KENT: Well, to suggest that a STUDENT would be able to flawlessly copy a J.C. Leyendecker painting, would in effect, be an insult to J.C.Leyendecker. Unless they were produced by a student of Mr. Reilly's that none of us knows about, and was done on their own time, that is not a plausible consideration. I have discussed this with a few of Mr. Reilly's students, most recently, Candido Rodriguez and Doug Higgins. Rodriguez was with Mr. Reilly from '54 to '66, as a student and monitor. They never heard of, nor was it ever the practice to copy an existing artist's work (particularly right down to the signature and monogram). That is simply not done in any serious art school. I have been teaching art for more than twenty years and have never heard of nor witnessed such a practice. Mr. Reilly would likely be offended at such an accusation or inference that his students would have to copy another artist to learn how to draw and paint in his classes. Besides, and most importantly, the hand that painted some of those pictures didn't need to copy ANYONE. Nobody could have, or more importantly would have been able to execute a Leyendecker passage without a "template" to copy from. Yet these are filled with such passages.
AAA: What about the fact that some of the studies are on paper, not on canvas? Also, it's been asserted that there were never any black and white studies.
KENT: In my book, The J.C. Leyendecker Collection, I was provided with a JCL study that was produced on paper, and is black and white, EnGrisaille (see page 6 of the book). I have a friend that owns beautiful B&W portrait, that was painted by J.C. But that's not the point. I, too, feel there is some question about some of the B&W pieces, however it has nothing to do with their being B&W artwork. Regarding the fact that they're on board, and speaking from the point of an artist, it would be a lot more difficult to produce those on board, than on canvas, which is a more forgiving surface. The fact that they're on board supports that they're Leyendeckers, considering the difficulty of execution. However, the board does raise a few questions, regarding J.C.'s use of stretched and fixed canvases. Obviously he didn't do "everything" on a canvas and given his enormous output of artwork, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that he produced work on a variety of surfaces. Again, the execution of brush strokes with the aforementioned qualities on board have to be effectively simulated and that is a very difficult task. Another observation is the apparent evidence of JC's "secret" medium. The unusual patterns of yellowing, seem to be located where he would block in a large spaces with flake white and gesso. I would venture to guess that he "primed" areas of the board with medium, then painted into those areas. The board would have "supported" paint after the prepping, and could have been executed spontaneously.
AAA: Talk about the medium of oil.
KENT: Although a cumbersome undertaking that requires greater effort, drying time, cleanup, stretching canvas, priming, etc, oil is a more forgiving media for painting application than almost anything else. The bottom line is that it's easy to mess up with any media. All, take considerable practice, skill, experience and patience to achieve the ability to pull off a painting (or study) that displays the qualities of a master's hand. Which brings me back to the "Reilly" angle or explanation.
AAA: Let's hear more about that.
KENT: When you first sent me the images and said the seller had associated them with "student" work, I explored that angle and very quickly recalled and verified my conclusions. We all know that Mr. Reilly admired Leyendecker's work and even rescued some of it after J.C. passed away. However, as previously stated, copying existing illustration art has traditionally been a hands-off subject. Copying styles, concepts, techniques, or drawing classic sculpture has been permitted and advocated. Flat out copying of art is not. This was especially true with Mr. Reilly. Nowhere in any of Mr. Reilly's curriculum or syllabus is there anything referring to "copying my favorite illustrators" class or section. He simply did not teach that way. I have his curriculum...It was very structured and contains specific class assignments. One thing that many people do not understand is that Mr. Reilly taught art in a very traditional manner, more like the French Académie, with the "actual" slant on fine art. He was training artists to be great painters first. His own resume states that he is a fine artist first, then an illustrator. He was teaching a very methodical manner that was fundamentally scientific and successful at a time when "illustration art jobs" were plentiful. It was a good living. A good "trade" to be skilled in during those days. J.C. Leyendecker is one painter that specifically made a conscious decision to be an "illustrative artist." Ironically, even though he greatly admired Leyendecker, Mr. Reilly believed that he (JCL) should have been accepting of more "important" work, such as murals. My list of direct Reilly students comprises about 65 known artists. There were certainly a lot more. But, then, I could list 25 names right now that AAA may not recognize. Others, we all do. However, I will say with absolute certainty, that only a handful of those known individuals could have painted some of your JCL studies even at the peak of their abilities and experience, let alone as students. I don't care if they were done on board, or canvas, or a toilet seat. They simply DO NOT exhibit the qualities of experience, and possibly most importantly, the decision-making structure of a student copy. A student would have had to paint, and practice 500 of those to produce that level of polish. We have all seen other sketches, and final painting of the Santa study, but not THAT study, right down to where he "would" have monogrammed it with his initials. I know a lot of really good artists. I don't know anyone that could parrot some of those studies to the absolute perfection of JC's style, technique, draughtsmanship, brush dexterity, color palette selection, and thought process. And there weren't any of Mr. Reilly's students that could, or would have either.
AAA: So, you've looked at the studies now several times. You know that a few have pooh-poohed the pieces. Your conclusion?
KENT: I feel that they are absolutely studies created by JC's hand. No question. Show me the artist that painted them, or at least make a calculated guess that makes sense. Look, drawing and painting well, is not easy. J.C. Leyendecker devoted his life to doing it VERY well. To simply accept that an unknown, possible student could have painted at least as well as J. C. Leyendecker, is a pretty uninspiring thought. It diminishes his greatness and remarkable abilities. A lot of people tried, and still attempt to paint like Haddon Sundblom, but not without obvious detection. My opinions and conclusions have been published in books and magazines for many years now. I have taught illustration art techniques for more than twenty years, and lectured for various entities and institutions. Furthermore, I have been a practicing illustrator for nearly thirty years. I own a good deal of original illustration artwork, but have never owned a Leyendecker. So what! I can own 100 houses, but that doesn't make me an expert about how they were built. If my background and experience somehow disqualifies me from having an opinion about this artwork, it would be great to learn exactly what would fill those qualifications.
One last thing Thomas, thank you for sticking with your guns. I would bet Joe is thanking you too. He'd be the first to say, "Nobody can paint and draw like me!"
Kent Steine is an illustrator, educator, and writer based in Madison, Wisconsin. Please visit his website: KentSteine.com