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Paul Cadmus
(December 17, 1904 - December 12, 1999) U.S.A.

Paul Cadmus



Cadmus has lived long enough to have passed through the representational paintings of social realism of the 1930s, when he began his career, to a late twentieth century return to representation, now embodied in what Cadmus terms his own "magic realism". Throughout these cultural shifts, Cadmus remained faithful to his exceptionally elegant drawings and draftamanship, to his reworking of the art-historical tradition since Renaissance, and to his portrayal of the potential beauty of the (most often male) body.

Like so many utopians, Cadmus expressed his sense of loss through satire. He juxtapposed the ideal, pastoral body, seen in repose, or on display, with the grotesque of the ageing, overweight body that indicates the loss of innocence and beauty. Cadmus played a remarkable part in the emergenec and recording of gay urban life as it came into wisibility betweem World War I and World War II.

After travelling Europe between 1931 and 1933 with his lover, Jared French, Cadmus returned to Depression-era New York City. In 1934, while employed by the New Dea's Public Works of Art Project, Cadmus painted The Fleet's In! , which later became his best-known work.

His YMCA Locker Room (1933) signals the existence of such spaces of male desire, and at the same time draws upon a tradition of celebration of the body and masculine desire. Cadmus became notorious in 1934, when his large painting The Fleet's In was banned from Work Progress Administration show.

The Fleet's In

Cadmus' work, with his flagrant bisexuality, said what was known but unsayable: he explored the sexual aura drawn around the body of the sailor. If the sailors are equally available for men and women, the gentleman in the red tie signifies, through his cravat, his sexuality. The painting is thus a brilliant account of the growt of an underworld of urban cruising.

A few years later, Cadmus was censored once again, this time for his Pocahontas Saving the Life of Captain John Smith , when a fox tail covered the male genitals was deemed too explicit. More controversy followed. Cadmus' paintings, Pocahontas Saving the Life of John Smith (1938), Sailors and Floozies (1938), and Seeing the New Year In (c. 1939) all were removed on demand by government officials.

Paul CadmusIn the 1940s Cadmus spent summers on Fire Island, along with his friend Jared French. This idyllic, often gay, scene was in sharp contrast with the vulgar crowd of Coney Island, recorded in the 1935 painting of that name which still finds ways to insert the virile body in the midst of the excesses of the flesh.

During the 1940s, Cadmus became, largely through correspondence, a close friend of Forster, and one of his most important paintings is called What I Believe, the title of the essay that gives the fullest statement of Forster's humanism. The painting makes explicit Cadmus' recurring theme of the opposition of the pure and impure, here rendered even more terrifying by memories of fascism.

If gay culture was becoming visible in Cadmus' work, it was not yet exlusive in the ways it became in the 1960s and 1970s. Cadmus was fascinated by the triangular relations of desire, manifest in some of his best paintings, such as The Shower (1943), or Night in Bologna (1958). Cadmus' Italian paintings often reflect a diverse and polymorphous sexuality with beauty contrasting with ugliness. They also demonstrate his deep indebtedness to Renaissance masters such as Piero della Francesca.

Although the framing of many of these paintings was Baroque architecture, Cadmus remained hostile to the contortions of Baroque, which he characteristically viewed ironically. His body of work is impressive, and plays a major role in the creation of gay male iconography.

Paul CadmusBetween 1937 and 1945, Paul Cadmus, his lover, Jared French, and French's wife, Margaret Hoening, summered on Fire Island and formed a photography collective called PaJaMa (a name formed from the first two letters of each member's first name).

Paul Cadmus was "an American artist noted for a virtuosic figurative style that he applied to subjects ranging from biting social satire to moralizing allegories to sensual, sometimes sentimental male nudes", according to the New York Times.

Paul Cadmus had a 35-year-long relationship with the singer and actor Jon Andersson. He died five days his ninety-fifth birthday; he was survived by his lover Jon Anderson.

Paul Cadmus


Source: Gabriele Griffin, Who's Who in Lesbian and Gay and Writing, Routledge, London, 2002 - http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/ - et alii.

You can enjoy a good documentation about Cadmus in our book Cadmus and his work.

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