Thursday, November 29, 2012

Paul Cadmus

Night in Bologna, Paul Cadmus, 1958

 A young Paul Cadmus by Luigi Lucioni

Considered one of the world's first openly gay artists, Paul Cadmus would have preferred just to have been known as a great artist. He was born in 1904 to artistic and bohemian parents in New York City. In an interview for the Smithsonian he said, “our apartment was in a horrid tenement building and we lived there crowded with other poverty stricken working families, we lived every day with cockroaches and bedbugs, inadequate heating in the winter and inadequate cooling in the summer months”. 

At the age of 14 he dropped out of high school to attend The National Academy of Design, where his parents had met. He spent 6 years there and then spent his last two years of academic training at the Art Students League of New York City.
In the fall of 1931 Paul Cadmus and his friend, Jared French, set off for Europe. The dollar was strong and they planned to live frugally and paint without the distraction of jobs or school.

 Portrait of Jared French "Jerry" by Paul Cadmus, 1931

Paul Cadmus and Jared French by George Platt Lynes

 Two years later, when they came back to the US, the country was in the midst of the great depression. Cadmus was able to secure a position that paid him a subsistence wage of $32 a week working for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a post-Depression government project.

 The Fleet's In!  Paul Cadmus,1934

 Cadmus had been a 30 year old, mostly unknown, painter until the scandal over his painting, The Fleet's In!  This 1934 homoerotic painting of sailors on shore leave was commissioned through his job with the PWAP. The painting outraged the Navy big shots and made headlines all over the country; its lurid sexuality and homosexual implications titillating American readers. Navy Admiral Rodman even called for it to be destroyed. He was quoted in a newspaper as saying, “this is an image that originated in the depraved mind of someone who has no experience or conception of the conditions in our beloved naval service.”  In the same interview Cadmus replied, “admiral Rodman and the Navy brass who are so angry must govern an Alice in Wonderland navy dream world, they should take a stroll along the drive at night when the fleets in port"
he would later say that he owed Rodman a debt for the inadvertent career boost.

Read more:
he would later say that he owed Rodman a debt for the inadvertent career boost.

Read more:

Detail from The Fleet's In!

he would later say that he owed Rodman a debt for the inadvertent career boost.

Read more:

The Bath, Paul Cadmus, 1951

All of the publicity sent Paul Cadmus’ career skyrocketing, soon his works were in high demand. Cadmus even went so far as to thank Admiral Rodman for helping make his career.
he would later say that he owed Rodman a debt for the inadvertent career boost.

Read more:   
Horseplay, Paul Cadmus, 1935 

Being an extremely meticulous artist, Cadmus favored the time consuming medium of egg tempera painting.  Where most artist would produce dozens if not hundreds of paintings a year, Cadmus averaged about 2 per year  

  Coney Island, Paul Cadmus, 1935

 Paul Cadmus, by George Platt Lynes

Playground, Paul Cadmus, 1948

For 25 years his studio was at 5 St. Luke's, between Hudson St. and Seventh Ave., the center of the West Village. "It was quite easy to be [gay] in the Village,"  Cadmus once said, "It wasn't much of a problem, but one was secretive. You could get into trouble.” 
 Cadmus had many famous admirers including Andy Warhol, Christopher Isherwood,Tennessee Williams, George Ballanchine and E. M. Forster, all of who were gay.

When Cadmus and his friends weren’t hanging out in the village, they were out on Fire Island, often posing for portraits. 

George Tooker by George Platt Lyne

Self Portrait by George Tooker

During this period, Cadmus was involved in a love triangle with the artist George Tooker, who said, "I was looking for a relationship and my relationship with Paul always included Jared and Margaret French."

Paul Cadmus with George Tooker and Jared French

 George Tooker, Paul Cadmus and Jared French on Fire Island

In 1964 Cadmus met the great love of his life, Jon Andersson, who would become his muse, his model and his partner for 35 years. 
Self Portrait with Jon Andersson by Paul Cadmus 

 Cadmus gave up painting later in his life, but continued with drawing, printmaking and photography.Just 5 days short of his 95th birthday, Paul Cadmus passed away, due to old age, in at his home in Weston, Connecticut.

For more about Paul Cadmus, check out this interview from the Smithsonian:  

Cadmus Interview, Smithsonian Inst.

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