Franz Xavier Leyendecker was born January 19, 1877 in Mountabaur, Germany. His parents were Peter and Elizabeth Leyendecker. He was the youngest of their four children. His brother Adolph was the oldest, then came his sister, Augusta, and then Joseph Christian Leyendecker, who became the most celebrated illustrator of his generation. The family immigrated to America in 1882. They lived at 5334 East Lake Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. The father worked as a brewer at the McAvoy Brewery.
In 1897 Adolph moved to Kansas City to start his own business and family. Frank and Joe went to Paris to study at the Academie Julian for one year, where they were both profoundly influenced by the work of Alphonse Mucha, the founder of the Art Nouveau movement. Frank returned to Chicago with an addiction to morphine. The two brothers set up a shared art studio in the Fine Arts Building at 410 South Michigan Avenue, where they experienced early success in advertising.
In the fall of 1900 the parents and their daughter and two youngest sons all moved together to New York City, where they lived in an Eastside townhouse.
Frank's first assignments were book illustrations and book cover designs.
On May 10, 1905, his mother, Elizabeth, died at age 60.
In 1909 he illustrated Rudyard Kipling's futuristic science fiction story entitled, With The Night Mail, for Doubleday.
In 1910 the Leyendecker family moved together to 114 Pelham Road in New Rochelle, NY.
He made advertisements for many clients, including Luxite Hosiery, Remington Arms, Palmolive Soap, and Willy's Motors.
He sold freelance interiors and covers to slick magazines, such as Colliers, Leslie's, Life, McClure's, The Saturday Evening Post, Vanity Fair, and Vogue.
In 1914 he moved into a private wing of his family's newly built mansion at 40 Mount Tom Road, New Rochelle, NY.
On November 16, 1916 his father, Peter, died suddenly at midnight at age 79.
In 1918 Frank Leyendecker was too old to serve in the World War, although he painted several popular recruitment posters.
He also painted covers for Street & Smith pulp magazines, such as People's Favorite Magazine and The Popular Magazine, as well as for Fawcett's pulp magazine Battle Stories. His painting for Battle Stories was originally created as a WWI recruitment poster that Fawcett Publications posthumously reprinted as a pulp magazine cover in 1931.
Frank's profligate lifestyle had undermined his health, his happiness, and his professional career. He reached a tragic turning point when he fought with his brother and left the mansion in 1923. One of Frank's last published illustrations appeared on Life, October 4,1923. It shows a charmingly seductive "Modern Witch" riding on an electric vacuum cleaner. That same month J. C. Leyendecker created his own Halloween cover for The Saturday Evening Post, as a parody of Frank's cover. Instead of a sexy young witch, he shows a silly old witch desperately clutching a knobby broomstick between her shrimpy legs. Her toothless grinning features are a clever caricature of Frank's own prematurely aged appearance, and a private joke about his brother's fragile vanity in a very public setting.
Frank moved into Norman Rockwell's unfinished garage apartment. Rockwell later said, "Frank had the furniture from his bedroom in the mansion moved in. A magnificent four-poster Baroque Italian bed, set against the west wall, occupied half the floor space. He also moved in hand-carved chairs from the same period and a large oriental rug that he never bothered to unroll. With his failing health and a career that was all but over, Frank Leyendecker passed away on Good Friday, 1924."
Frank Leyendecker was depressed and in ill health from his ongoing drug addiction, when he most likely committed suicide by morphine overdose on April 18, 1924. Although he was only 47 the police report listed his apparent age as "60."
© David Saunders 2009