Artist Spotlight – Paul Cadmus

Paul Cadmus

Paul Cadmus, “The Fleet’s In!”, 1934, Tempera on Canvas, 94 x 170 cm, Naval History and Heritage Command, U.S. Navy Art Collection

Paul Cadmus, “The Fleet’s In!”, 1934, Etching, 18.9 x 35.7 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Paul Cadmus’s work is imbued with the compositions of the Renaissance period, the firm and expressive lines of Jean-Auguste Ingres, and the sharp, figurative appearance of Magical Realism. However, Cadmus received his greatest influence from his lover and fellow painter Jared French, with whom he studied and traveled extensively. French instilled within Cadmus the traditions of the Old Masters that became a fundamental part of his work.

Cadmus is best known for his erotic depictions of nude male figures, charged with satire, social criticism, and a strongly idealized sexuality. He  first gained recognition for his 1934 Public Works of Art Project (WPA) tempera painting “The Fleet’s In!”, where the controversy of a group of sailors he pictured carousing among prostitutes and homosexuals inspired a public outcry. 

Paul Cadmus

The tempera “The Fleet’s In!” was removed in 1934 from the WPA exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC before public viewing by order of the US Secretary of the Navy and transferred to the custody of the US Department of the Navy. it was not seen in a public exhibition until September of 1981, when it was shown, on loan, in a traveling Cadmus retrospective. Upon the retrospective’s end in July of 1982, the painting’s repository remained the US Navy’s Art Collection, which has continued the practice of loaning it to domestic and international museums.

For more extensive information on the censorship of Paul Cadmus’s paintings, please visit Anthony J. Morris’s dissertation entitled “The Censored Paintings of Paul Cadmus, 1934-1940: The Body as the Boundary Between the Decent and Obscene”, 2010, Department of Art History and Art, Case Western Reserve University.

Paul Cadmus

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