Paul Cadmus

About the Artist

Photograph of Paul Cadmus, Jared French and George Tooker by George Platt Lynes, 1940’s

Photograph of Paul Cadmus, Jared French and George Tooker by George Platt Lynes, 1940’s

Paul Cadmus was an American Modern Realist painter and printmaker. Like the Italian Renaissance painters he admired, Cadmus’ work was meticulous and technically brilliant. His erotic and sardonic works caused a stir in the 1930s, which helped to launch his career.

Early Life and Education

Paul Cadmus was born in New York City in 1904. His father, Egbert Cadmus, worked as a lithographer to support the family and was a watercolorist, who studied drawing at the National Academy of Design with Charles Hinton. Cadmus’ mother, Maria Latasa, also studied with Hinton and illustrated children’s books. Cadmus said that he knew he wanted to be a painter at the age of ten. He went to public schools, until he decided to drop out of high School in 1919 and enroll in drawing and printmaking classes at the National Academy of Design where, like his father and mother, he studied with Charles Hinton. Cadmus remained at the Academy for seven years, before enrolling at the Art Students League.
In 1928 Cadmus began working as a commercial illustrator for Blackman and Company, a New York advertising agency. After three years with the agency, Cadmus had saved up enough money to travel to Europe with his artist friend, Jared French. They visited museums in France and Spain, where Cadmus was greatly influenced by Italian Renaissance artists. They traveled by bicycle and finally settled on the island of Mallorca, where they lived and painted for two years.

Career

Cadmus returned to New York in 1934, when the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression. He lived in Greenwich Village and found a job with the Public Works of Art Project, the federally funded program aimed at helping artists through the Depression. Cadmus painted The Fleet’s In!, which was chosen for an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery in D.C. At the Corcoran, a Navy admiral saw the painting and was offended by the way the sailors were portrayed. U.S. Navy officials created such a furor that the painting was removed from the exhibit. The move caused a great deal of controversy, the story of the banned painting was widely publicized and Cadmus’ career took off. The Fleet’s In! is on display at the Navy Art Gallery in the Washington Navy Yard. Cadmus was a friend of Lincoln Kirstein, who founded the New York City Ballet and married Cadmus’ sister, Fidelma. Kirstein became Cadmus’ patron and helped organize major exhibits of his work. In the 1960s Cadmus moved his studio to Brooklyn Heights and began concentrating on drawings of male nudes. The dancer, Jon Anderson, was his model and became his lifetime companion. Cadmus died in their home in Weston, Connecticut in 1999, at the age of 94.

Legacy

Paul Cadmus’ murals can still be viewed in public buildings around the U.S. and his works are part of the permanent collections of the National Museum of American Art, the Whitney, the Smithsonian, the Met and other museums and galleries.

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