Beyond the Canvas: April Showers by J.C. Leyendecker

One of our most well-known artists, Leyendecker's covers were often illustrations that celebrated the start of a new season or holiday, but the deeper message in his symbolism was often overlooked.

"April Showers," by J.C. Leyendecker appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post April 25, 1914.

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"April Showers," by J.C. Leyendecker appeared on the cover of <em>The Saturday Evening Post</em> April 25, 1914.
“April Showers,” by J.C. Leyendecker appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post April 25, 1914.
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J.C. Leyendecker’s illustrations of infants and toddlers are renowned both for ringing in the New Year and as cherubic annunciations of calendar holidays.

His April 25th, 1914 cover, April Showers, takes a unique perspective on an unappreciated time of the year. This illustration celebrates the pseudo-holiday of seasonal change itself, from the dead of Christmas winter to the blossoming rebirth of Easter spring.

The artistic composition is simple, recycling the same white, canvassed background of so many other Leyendecker covers. Negative white space contrasts the cover’s dark font and the black umbrella. The girl’s black and white socks and shoes, along with the synonymous fur pattern of the loyal pup by her feet, replicate the cover’s lighting contrast.

The black-white color scheme is important to the overall composition of the work and to the story told in illustration. Black and white dogs are actually the most common canines in all of western art history. They are the symbols of Dominican Friars who wear black and white robes. The founder of their order, St. Dominic, found his way into the clergy after witnessing a harsh Spanish famine due to lack of rain. From as far back as the medieval era, the black and white dog has represented fidelity to God in images of Dominican saints and martyrs staring up at the heavens. The dog is an old Dominican biblical pun of Dominicanus, combining the Latin name of their Dominican order and “Domini-Canes,” or their nickname, “God’s dogs,” in Latin.

This issue, published the week after Easter, holds an important message about the power of spring, rebirth, and blossoming from the dead of winter. The innocence of the cherub-like child standing with her pup, looking to the sky and pondering the life-giving rains of spring, could easily awake heavenly questions.

The toddler stands out in her red dress. Her pale skin, rosy cheeks, and pure white undergarments barely distinguishable from the background embellish her childhood innocence. The umbrella too big, the girl too small, our infant merely wears the umbrella on her shoulder rather than hold it firmly by the Christian symbol of the shepherd’s crook handle.

Without the artist’s inclusion of rain, we viewers would be left out in the cold, out of seasonal context. Rather than illustrate rain in the work’s white, negative space, Leyendecker purposefully depicts droplets running off the umbrella’s edge. The glassy teardrops fall in front of the black backdrop of fabric, illuminating the objects that so transfix the eyes of a child.

The image in its entirety is bold, so bold that it’s allowed to partially cover the staple text indicating the Post’s lineage, leaving only “enj. Franklin” to express our publication’s pre-American foundations. A simple message permeates this cover; while we may dread the drench of April showers, and shield ourselves from the deluge, we ought to take a moment to appreciate the season’s arrival. Each spring in a new year is a singular experience for celebration, complete with new life, a new holiday, and new moments for reflection.

Illustrator Joseph Christian "J.C." LeyendeckerTo learn more about J.C. Leyendecker and to see other inside illustrations and covers from this artist, click here!.

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