The Saturday Evening Post cover, September 18, 1937
One of the most prolific and sought-after artists of the Golden Age of Illustration, J.C. Leyendecker captivates the public with his striking, fashionable depictions of handsome men, glamorous women, and adorable children. Painted in 1937 First Long Suit not only encapsulates the high-fashion, glamorous fantasy world that Leyendecker strove to achieve over the course of his vastly successful career, it also poignantly captures a bittersweet moment that every parent experiences--watching our children grow up right before our eyes.
Born in Montabaur, Germany, Leyendecker came to Chicago with his Catholic family at age eight. He apprenticed to a printer, J. Manz and Co., and then studied with John Vanderpoel at the Chicago Art Institute. In 1896, he won the Century magazine cover competition, which essentially launched him professionally. Two years later, he went to Paris to the Académie Julian with his brother, Francis Xavier, and they learned the "hachure" method of drawing whereby blended shading was not allowed. It was a time when poster art was very popular, and when he returned to America, the artist applied these new methods to his work. With a secret recipe combining oil and turpentine, J.C. and his brother, Frank, perfected a crosshatch method of working in oil paint that gave the speed of pencil and the visual impact of color without the brush going dry.
In the present work, an attractive, fabulously well-dressed mother sits misty-eyed as her young son stands proudly in the mirror with his tailor, happily and proudly sizing himself up in his first 'grownup' suit. Situated up close on the picture plane, the young boy is clearly the star of the narrative. Viewed from a low and heroic vantage point, one cannot help but notice the fineries and the cornucopia of fabrics and textures filling the composition. The scene is skillfully rendered in rich salmons, browns, blues, and buttery yellow, applied with Leyendecker's hallmark cross-hatching technique. The result is a highly refined, wonderfully descriptive moment that young and old alike would wish to emulate.
Published in 1937, the present work was executed during the mature period of the artist's career, only six years prior to his final piece for the Post in 1943. The flawless combination of technical prowess, dazzling color and familial subject matter brand First Long Suit as one of Leyendecker's most ambitious and stylish illustrations to come to market in recent years.
Richard Wyndham Hoffman, The Artist's Model:
J.C. Leyendecker first painted Richard Wyndham Hoffman in 1923, when the artist captured the two-year-old boy’s sense of quiet wonder as he perched on Santa's lap for the December 22 cover of The Saturday Evening Post. But childhood innocence soon darkened for Richard. The following year, his world became consumed by the highly publicized and acrimonious divorce of his parents, the celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Richard Wyndham Hoffman Sr. and the career-driven actress Janet Beecher. Beecher held unconventional spiritual beliefs that led her to convincing her husband to make a disastrous “spirit-guided” investment in her new play – a move that plunged the family into financial ruin.
Years later, after witnessing the boy’s parental struggles playing out in the press, Leyendecker contacted Richard, now 16, and gifted him the original 1923 Santa cover painting, which the artist personally inscribed. At this time, Leyendecker also asked Richard to model for this First Long Suit cover. The artist saw in Richard a resilience beyond his years, capturing a sense of pride and optimism associated with the boy’s transition into manhood. This newfound maturity soon translated into action. As World War II erupted, Richard, at age twenty, joined the Army Air Corps and became a decorated bombardier, completing 26 daring missions.
Richard married before going off to war, but it did not last. His second wife, “Cookie” Warren, was the daughter of the songwriter Harry Warren, who wrote the popular songs “Jeepers Creepers” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” Richard died in 1959 at the young age of 37. (Reference for Hoffman biography: “The Art of the Post: The Little Boy on Santa’s Lap” by David Apatoff, The Saturday Evening Post online, December 13, 2023.)