Paul Cadmus

Born 1904. Died 1999.
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Paul Cadmus Biography

Paul Cadmus is best remembered for his vivid, erotically charged figurative paintings that have often been classified as magical realism. Carousing café crowds, languid sunbathers, subway commuters, and gilded acrobats all populate his canvases, in forms and attitudes that suggest a range of influences from the great Renaissance masters to drugstore beefcake magazines. His most talked-about work continues to be his 1934 WPA commission The Fleet’s In!, which the U.S. Navy’s high brass decried as “a most disgraceful, sordid, disreputable, drunken brawl” and kept from public view for the next half-century.

Cadmus was born on December 17, 1904 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His father, Egbert, studied with Robert Henri and worked as a commercial artist while his mother, Maria, illustrated children’s books. Cadmus entered the National Academy of Design at the age of fifteen and subsequently found work as an illustrator at a New York ad agency. In the early 1930s, he traveled through Europe with a fellow artist, Jared French, who would become his lover for a time. In 1937, Cadmus, French, and French’s wife, Margaret Hoening, formed the artistic collective PaJaMa and traveled between Fire Island, Cape Cod, and Nantucket staging photographs of themselves and their friends, both clothed and nude. From 1965 until his death on December 12, 1999, Cadmus’s partner and muse was Jon Anderson, a former cabaret star.

In 1996, the 92-year-old Cadmus was honored with a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which continues to hold several of his works; he is also represented at such institutions as the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Sotheby’s has handled several important pieces including the tautly seductive Notturno: Bologna(1957), which sold for $277,000.

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