Paul Cadmus

Paul Cadmus
Cadmus photo taken by Carl Van Vechten, 1937
Born (1904-12-17)December 17, 1904
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Died December 12, 1999(1999-12-12) (aged 94)
Weston, Connecticut, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Art Students League of New York
Known for Painting, drawing
Notable work The Fleet's In! (1934), Gilding the Acrobats (1935)
Movement Magic realism
Elected National Academy of Design

Paul Cadmus (December 17, 1904 – December 12, 1999) was an American artist. He is best known for his egg tempera paintings of gritty social interactions in urban settings. He also produced many highly finished drawings of single nude male figures. His paintings combine elements of eroticism and social critique in a style often called magic realism.[1]

Early life and education

Paul Cadmus was born on December 17, 1904, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the son of artists, Maria Latasa and Egbert Cadmus (1868–1939).[2] His father, who studied with Robert Henri, worked as a commercial artist, and his mother illustrated children's books.[3] His sister, Fidelma Cadmus, married Lincoln Kirstein, a philanthropist, arts patron, and co-founder of the New York City Ballet,[4] in 1941.[5]

At age 15, Cadmus left school to attend the National Academy of Design for 6 years.[6] He then enrolled at the Art Students League of New York in 1928 taking life-drawing lessons while working as a commercial illustrator at a New York advertising agency.[7] He furthered his education while traveling through Europe from 1931 to 1933 with fellow artist Jared French,[6] who became his lover for a time.[8]


After traveling through France and Spain, Cadmus and French settled in a fishing village on the island Majorca. In 1933, they headed back to the United States after running out of money, where Cadmus was one of the first artists to be employed by The New Deal art programs, painting murals at post offices.[7] He maintained a studio at 54 Morton Street.[9]

He worked in commercial illustration as well, but French, also a tempera artist, convinced him to devote himself completely to fine art.[8][10] In 1979, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an associate member and became a full member in 1980.

Cadmus is ranked by Artists Trade Union of Russia amongst the world's best artists of the last four centuries.[11]


In 1934, at the age of 29,[12] he painted The Fleet's In! while working for the Public Works of Art Project of the WPA.[1][13][14] This painting, which featured carousing sailors and women, included a stereotypical homosexual solicitation and erotic exaggeration of clinging pants seats and bulging crotches. It was the subject of a public outcry led by Admiral Hugh Rodman, who protested to Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson, saying, "It represents a most disgraceful, sordid, disreputable, drunken brawl."[4] Secretary Swanson stated that the painting was "right artistic" but "not true to the Navy."[9] The painting was removed from exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery[6] by Henry L. Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time, and kept in his home until Roosevelt's death in 1936.[4] The publicity helped to launch his career,[6] and he stated at the time, "I had no intention of offending the Navy. Sailors are no worse than anybody else. In my picture I merely commented on them – I didn't criticize."[9] The painting, which after Roosevelt's death hung over a mantel at the Alibi Club in Washington for more than half a century, was kept from public view until 1981,[4] temporarily displayed at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami,[15] and eventually found a home at the Naval Historical Center.[4]

In 1938, his painting Pocahantas Saving the Life of John Smith, a mural painted for the Parcel Post Building in Richmond, Virginia, had to be retouched when some observers noticed a fox pelt suggestively hanging between the legs of an Indian depicted in the painting.[4] Cadmus used his then lover, Jared French, as the model for John Smith in the mural.[2][16]

In 1940, two paintings, Sailors and Floozies (1938) and Seeing the New Year In, were removed from public view because the Navy "didn't like it" and there was "too much smell about it."[17] The paintings were being exhibited at the Golden Gate International Exposition and were removed, while a third, Venus and Adonis, remained. The office of Commissioner George Creel was told by the Navy that the painting, Sailors and Floozies, was "unnecessarily dirty."[17]

Artistic style

Cadmus, considered to be a master draftsman, was interested in the Italian Renaissance artists, particularly Signorelli and Mantegna, the so-called "masters of muscle." He was also influenced by Reginald Marsh, an American scene painter. Cadmus combined the elements of Signorelli and Mantegna along with Marsh to depict the street life of New York City.[4]

He was transfixed by the human body, both the ideal and the repulsive. His ideal was a stylized erotic version of the male body. He found the grotesque everywhere from Greenwich Village cafes, subway stations, the beach at Coney Island to American tourists in an Italian piazza. His art is a form of satire and caricature of his subjects that has been compared to fellow artists George Grosz and Otto Dix.[4] Art critics have been divided on Cadmus' art, with Dore Ashton stating that "he's not a historical figure at all, he's an also-ran." Ashton described his paintings as "skewed Saturday Evening Post." In 1990, Michael Kimmelman wrote that Cadmus' art served "as a reminder that, contrary to the standard view, realism was still a vital tradition in American art during the middle of this century, one that drew from many of the same sources that inspired the Abstract Expressionists who were widely thought to have rendered realism obsolete."[18]

Personal life

From 1937 until 1945, Cadmus, his lover, Jared French, and French's wife, Margaret Hoening, summered on Fire Island and formed a photographic collective called PaJaMa ("Paul, Jared, and Margaret").[19] In between Provincetown, Truro, Fire Island, and New York, they staged various black-and-white photographs of themselves with their friends, both nude and clothed. Most of these friends featured in the photographs were among New York's young artists, dancers and writers, and most were handsome and gay.[19] In 1938, Cadmus and French posed for a series of photographs with the noted photographer George Platt Lynes (1907–1955). These photographs were not published or exhibited while Lynes was living and show the intimacy and relationship of the two.[20] In the photographs, 14 of which survive today, Cadmus and French vacillate between exposure and concealment, with French generally being the more exhibitionist of the two.[20]

Later in the 1940s, Cadmus and his then lover, George Tooker, formed a complicated relationship with French and his wife.[21] When the Frenches bought a home in Hartland, Vermont, they gave Cadmus a house of his own on the property, which French later took back and gave to his Italian lover.[22]

In 1965, Cadmus met and began a relationship with Jon Anderson (born 1937),[23] a former cabaret star, in Nantucket that lasted until Cadmus' death in 1999.[24] From the beginning of their 35-year relationship,[24] the then 27-year-old Anderson was Cadmus' model and muse in many of his works.[12] Cadmus was also close friends with many illustrious artists, authors, and dancers including: Christopher Isherwood, W. H. Auden, George Balanchine, George Platt Lynes, George Tooker, Lincoln Kirstein (his brother-in-law), and E. M. Forster,[1] who was said to have read his novel Maurice aloud while Cadmus painted his portrait.[15]

In 1999, he died at his home in Weston, Connecticut,[25] due to advanced age, just five days shy of his 95th birthday.[15]

List of works

From 1931 until 1992, Cadmus produced 120 paintings, two a year on average.[4] Some highlights include:



  1. 1 2 3 O'connor, John J. (16 May 1986). "'PAUL CADMUS,' ON 13, A STUDY OF THE ARTIST AT 80". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  2. 1 2 Staff. "Paul Cadmus". DC Moore Gallery. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  3. "EGBERT CADMUS, 71, WATER-COLOR ARTIST | Also Known as a Lithographer —Was Father of Paul Cadmus". The New York Times. August 15, 1939. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Grimes, William (8 March 1992). "ART; The Charge? Depraved. The Verdict? Out of the Show". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  5. "Miss Fidelma Cadmus Wed". The New York Times. April 9, 1941. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Paul Cadmus Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  7. 1 2 "Paul Cadmus". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  8. 1 2 Grimes, Nancy (1993). Jared French's Myths. San Francisco, California: Pomegranate Artbooks. ISBN 1-56640-322-7.
  9. 1 2 3 "'FLEET'S IN' ARTIST TO ESCHEW NAVY | Paul Cadmus, Whose Canvas Was Banned in Washington, Looking for New Subjects". The New York Times. May 31, 1934. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  10. Grimes, Nancy (1993). Jared French's myths (1st ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Pomegranate Artbooks. ISBN 1566403227.
  11. "List of 10.000 world best artists of the Russian Federation Artists Trade Union". Archived from the original on October 31, 2010.
  12. 1 2 3 Glueck, Grace (7 June 1996). "ART REVIEW;Paul Cadmus, a Mapplethorpe for His Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  13. "ART ROW IN NAVY SURPRISES PAINTER | Cadmus Advises Admirals to Make Study of Sailors' Life on Riverside Drive". The New York Times. April 20, 1934. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  14. "Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)". NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER. Retrieved 19 July 2013.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Cotter, Holland (15 December 1999). "Paul Cadmus Dies at 94; Virtuosic American Painter". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  16. Anreus, Alejandro; Linden L., Diana; Weinberg, Jonathan (2006). The Social and the Real: Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere. Penn State Press. ISBN 027104716X. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  17. 1 2 "OUSTS SAILORS' PAINTING | Golden Gate Fair Also Removes Another Cadmus Picture". The New York Times. August 8, 1940. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  18. Kimmelman, Michael (4 May 1990). "Review/Art; The Power of Whimsy: Jean Arp's Later Work". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  19. 1 2 Smith, Roberta (5 November 2015). "PaJaMa, Whose Photographs Breathed Eroticism". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  20. 1 2 Meyer, Richard (2002). Outlaw Representation: Censorship & Homosexuality in Twentieth-century American Art. Beacon Press. pp. 89–93. ISBN 9780807079355. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  21. Johnson, Ken (9 October 2008). "Conform, Conform, Wherever You Are: Modern Angst in 'George Tooker: A Retrospective' at the National Academy Museum". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  22. Leddick, David (2015). Intimate Companions: A Triography of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus, Lincoln Kirstein, and Their Circle. Macmillan. ISBN 9781250104786. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  23. "Paid Notice: Deaths CADMUS, PAUL". The New York Times. 14 December 1999. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  24. 1 2 Gargan, Scott (November 8, 2012). "Paul Cadmus and Jon Anderson the focus of "Muse" at Westport Arts Center". CT Post. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  25. Mcgill, Douglas C. (14 December 1984). "ART PEOPLE". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  26. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Jewell, Edward Alden (March 27, 1937). "CADMUS CANVASES HUNG AT MIDTOWN One-Man Show of American Artist Is Commended for Subtle Draftsmanship". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  27. Raynor, Vivien. "ART; PAUL CADMUS RETROSPECTIVE IN STORRS". The New York Timesdate=4 April 1982. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  28. Charles, Eleanor. "CONTROVERSIAL PAINTING ON VIEW AFTER 47 YEARS". The New York Timesdate=21 March 1982. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
Biographical works
  • Eliasoph, Philip, 'Paul Cadmus: Life & Work', doctoral dissertation, State University of New York at Binghamton, (1979) (authorized biography written with the artist's first-hand data, suggestions, overview)
  • Eliasoph, Philip, 'Paul Cadmus and the Virtue of Anachronism,' 'Drawing' -The International Review published by the Drawing Society, Jan–Feb. (1981) pp. 97–104.
  • Eliasoph, Philip, 'Paul Cadmus: Yesterday & Today,' Miami University Art Museum, Oxford, Ohio, with an introduction by Lloyd Goodrich (the first and only retrospective catalogue which was followed by national tour to four regional art museums) (1981)
  • Kirstein, Lincoln. Paul Cadmus, Imago Imprint: Arnold Skolnick (1984)
  • Sutherland, David. Paul Cadmus, Enfant Terrible at 80. Documentary film (1984) Philip Eliasoph, Associate Producer, created with funding and support of Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut.
  • Eliasoph, Philip, 'Paul Cadmus at Ninety: The Virtues of Depicting Sin,' American Arts Quarterly (1995) pp. 39–55;
  • Eliasoph, Philip 'A Tribute to Paul Cadmus: Posthumous Appreciation', American Art Journal-Smithsonian Institution, Fall (2000) Vol 14.No. 3.
  • The Drawings of Paul Cadmus. Introduction by Guy Davenport
  • Spring, Justin. Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude New York: Universe (2002)
  • Eliasoph, Philip 'Paul Cadmus: Reflections,' catalogue essay for Christie's American Art sale, "Important American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture" (May 24, 2007) pp. 199–206.
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