When it came to The Saturday Evening Post, George Horace Lorimer had it covered. The legendary editor-in-chief gave the Post its first cover in 1899, and hand-picked every one thereafter for the next 30 years. Some ideas came from editors, and occasionally even readers wrote in with suggestions that made it to the cover. Mostly, though, it was the artists of the day who presented their ideas to Lorimer, in sketches and fully rendered paintings. It was a moment of mingled excitement and terror as Lorimer, “the Boss,” lined up cover prospects along a wall, then rapidly accepted or rejected illustrations with the flick of a finger. His word was final, but his judgment was unerring, as you’ll see in this gallery of Post covers.
N. C. Wyeth
The father of painter Andrew Wyeth and grandfather of present-day artist Jamie Wyeth, Newell Convers Wyeth was a student of Howard Pyle and the Brandywine School of art. Wyeth’s first professional work was a commissioned illustration for the Post. His sense of color and mood was particularly suited to Western subjects, which also appealed to Lorimer. So the Post sent Wyeth to gain firsthand knowledge of his subject. On trips to the western United States, he worked as a ranch hand in Colorado and rode mail routes in New Mexico and Arizona.
Charles Livingston Bull
Known chiefly as an animal illustrator, Bull literally drew from his experience as a taxidermist at the National Museum in Washington, D.C. Bull’s images, whether an eagle soaring in flight or a fox on the prowl, gave a majestic, even startling, life and grace to his wild subjects.
MacDonall, who came from the Midwest but eventually migrated east to become part of the Westport, Connecticut art colony, did only a few covers for the Post, but they were memorable, especially his poignant depictions of children. The forlorn boy and his dog were real, seen by a reader in Oregon, who described the scene vividly in a letter to the editor.
Like N.C. Wyeth, Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle was a student of Howard Pyle’s Brandywine School, later marrying Howard’s brother Walter. When they started a family, Pyle set painting aside, but after Walter’s death in 1919, as a widow with four children, Pyle resumed her career to make ends meet. She struggled at first, but then her sister-in-law took three of Pyle’s paintings to the Post—and Lorimer promptly bought two of them, in addition to the girl with the ice cream cone, which became a cover in 1922 (after Lorimer insisted that the dog, originally shown drooling, be retouched). Pyle painted 40 Post covers in all, often using her children as models. The girls sipping sodas here are Pyle’s daughters.
J. C. Leyendecker
Joseph Christian Leyendecker received his first commission to paint a Post cover the same year George Horace Lorimer began running them, in 1899. Before Norman Rockwell arrived, no other artist had been so closely identified with the Post. Leyendecker famously created the iconic New Year’s Baby and the pudgy red-garbed rendition of Santa Claus, among other enduring images. Rockwell himself idolized the artist, calling him “a superb draftsman and a fine colorist,” as evidenced here. Leyendecker had an eye for the humor in everyday life, too (as in the case of the ample bathing beauty and her water wings, witnessed by a Post editor, who later described her to Leyendecker), which always delighted readers.
For more cover art, visit saturdayeveningpostcovers.com.