Born in Montabaur, Germany, and came to America at the age of eight. Showing an early interest in painting, he got his first job at the age of sixteen (16) in a Chicago engraving house on the strength of some large pictures he had painted on kitchen oilcloth. In the evenings after work, he studied under Vanderpoel at the Chicago Art Institute, and saved for five years to be able to go to France to attend the Academie Julian in Paris.
Upon his return, as a thoroughly trained artist with immense technical facility, Leyendecker had no difficulty in obtaining top commissions for advertising illustrations and cover designs for the leading publications.
Joseph Christian Leyendecker became a noted American illustrator and graphic designer who, between 1896 and 1950, painted more than four hundred magazine covers, most of them of an idealized America. His first Saturday Evening Post cover was done in 1899, and he executed 321 more during the next 40 years. Among the most famous of these was his annual New Year Baby series.
He particularly hit his stride in the 1930’s with fashion advertising, selling lifestyle with product. It is said that his technical skill was beyond reproach, he worked amazingly fast, and that his draftsmanship was perfect. He and his brother, Frank Xavier Leyendecker worked together in a large studio estate in New Rochelle, New York. J. C. Leyendecker, whom Norman Rockwell considered his primary mentor, heavily influenced Rockwell’s early style and was a true master illustrator of the 20th century.