J C Leyendecker Overview of Illustrators

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Overview of American Illustrators

Who were the American Illustrators? Immigrants, of course, just like most of us. One of Henry Hutt's ancestors was Daniel Hutt, captain of the Mayflower (according to a relative who contacted me).

The artists came to America from France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Peru, Uraguay, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Spain, Greenland, and our neighbors Canada and Mexico. Some never became Americans, but contributed enough artwork here that it would be remiss not to include them, for whether citizen or visitor, it was American art they were creating.

For the most part, illustrators were as normal as anyone else. Most of them married and stayed married (often, not surprisingly, to one of their attractive models). Still, a few led wild lives and either never married or married several times. Some died tragically in war or from war wounds (physical or mental) suffered years before. A few died in poverty, some in rich beds. A select few were every bit as famous as the movie stars of their day. As illustration art declined in America, many were enticed to the American west to specialize in painting the outdoors, hunting, cowboys and Indian natives. Others retired to do portraiture for the elites. There was a suicide or two and at least one murderer, but for the most part, one wouldn’t be able to tell an illustrator by looking at him or her from a lawyer, doctor, or teacher, except for the smell of linseed oil.

Men dominated here as they did in other fields of the day, but a surprising number of women became successful, famous, and wealthy as illustrators. Blacks didn’t seem as drawn to illustration as they were to theatre, music, and other arts, but at least one helped make not just one, but two magazines famous because of his watercolor wizardry and knack of portraying that illustration staple, the pretty girl.

Some illustrators were so versatile in so many styles, that it’s impossible to get a handle on their work. Still others moved smoothly from pulps to slicks to comics to posters to cartoons. Several illustrators were also capable musicians, sculptors, costume and jewelry makers. Quite a few turned out to be excellent writers, often becoming columnists with their own illustrations as decoration.

And while some artists had US-of-A type names like Al Moore and Victor Anderson, a few had exotic or whimsical names like Neysa McMein, Merlin, Artzybasheff, Hayden Hayden, Penrhyn Stanlaws, Ben-Hur Baz, Thornton Utz, Michael, Cardwell Higgins, Eric, and Erté.

The illustration at left is from one of J C Leyendecker's famous ad campaigns. Here, we have something wholly American: a Yankee cereal ad featuring a Boy Scout as illustrated by a German immigrant during WWI.

J C Leyendecker, Kellogg's Toasted Corn Flakes,
"Ask the American Boy Why He Prefers Kellogg's" (1917)