|Leyendecker study for New Year Baby 1915|
There is a tradition in illustration wherein a small baby--the New Year--is depicted to show us something of either the year just passing or the year to come. In any number of those images the baby is welcomed (usually) by the wizened Old Year. Typically the new baby is full of all the things we see in babies--smooth and pink skin, freshness and hope, unspoiled optimism, and a kind of joy that plays well against the wise and tired visage of the old old man.
Perhaps the best-known illustrator of New Year's babies was Joseph Christian Leyendecker, who was active in the first half of the 20th century. J.C Leyendecker was born in 1874 in Germany though his family came to the United States when he was about 8 years old. He grew up in Chicago and first studied art at the Art Institute and later the Academie Julian in Paris. By the time he was in his mid-twenties, Leyendecker was back in the States and established in as a successful illustrator, first in Chicago and later in New York. His cover illustrations for magazines like the Saturday Evening Post assured him of a handsome income for half a century, and an enviable artistic reputation. Besides his personal success, Leyendecker inevitably became the hero of quite a few younger painters, notably Norman Rockwell, who considered Leyendecker a true master.
Leyendecker painted hundreds of covers for the Post in particular as well as quite a number of indelible advertising images such as the Arrow Shirt Man.
Leyendecker died on July 25, 1951 in New Rochelle.
Leyendecker's New Years Babies