Posted 4 years ago
It took time, but I finally have them: the four Saturday Evening Post New Year's Leyendecker covers, from 1940 to 1943. The 1943 cover was the last he ever made for SEP, having been supplanted by his former disciple and mortal rival, Norman Rockwell.
The images themselves have a twisted, grotesque quality that defies semiotic description, since the image does not correspond to the message ("Baby" does not equal--or signify-- "war"). Or maybe the message is not so subtly subversive: a culture who worships war from "babyhood".
The 1940 c0ver (pic. 1) places together disparate elements: a gas mask (more aptly a tool in WWI), a suitcase and an umbrella. It points to the massive mobilization of troops occurring in Europe. The USA had not yet entered the conflict; the cover is also a preview of what is yet to come. So is the 1941 cover (Pic. 2), since the USA is not dropped" into the conflict until after Pearl harbor, on Dec. 7th of that year.
The 1942 cover (Pic 3) shows a baby holding a rifle while crouching on top of an earthly globe. The image is quite a graphic depiction of a favorite American belief: the USA as a war/peace global police. Finally, in an image of unmitigated violence, the 1943 cover of a GI baby bayoneting an swastika, the sign for the Nazi empire.
Leyendecker was let go shortly afterwards. He had exhausted his semiotic vocabulary. In other words, he repeated himself and his imagery no longer had a hold on the American collective imaginary.
Rockwell did not challenge or provoke; welcome to the American 50's.
I must point out that Leyendecker babies resemble Kewpie dolls, first created for the Ladies Home Journal by Rosie O'Donell in 1909. But his first New Year's baby was from 1908!