The Style Issue Crossover!

Pretty Things: Paul Cadmus

While we’re on the subject of AIDS – always a good lede, huh? – you may recall our recent piece on AIDS Walk’s new ad campaign. In that piece, we touched upon an artistic movement called social realism, which attempted to capture the lived experience of the masses.

During the movement’s hey-day (the 1930s-1940s), the American government launched the Works Progress Administration. Later renamed the Works Project Administration, this New Deal institution enlisted the nation’s artists to help spread the good governmental word.

Though most of the artists were straight, there’s always one fag in the bunch and the WPA’s fag went by the name of Paul Cadmus.

Born in New York City in 1904, Cadmus made a name for himself with his most famous work, “The Fleet’s In!” Commissioned by the government in 1934, the piece’s frank (and relatively lewd) depiction of sexual promiscuous (and ambiguous) sailors caused quite a stir. Public outcry proved to be so effective, in fact, that the government censored Cadmus’ piece, which originally hung in Washington’s Corcoran Gallery (where Robert Mapplethorpe’s work would also be censored).

Removed from the show, the painting remained hidden at The Alibi Club for years. In 1980, a gallery staged a Cadmus retrospective and asked to borrow the painting, but the Club refused. When the curators threatened to sue, the Navy took control of the painting, thus thwarting their plans. One year later, the Navy had The Fleet’s In! restored and showed it publicly for the first time since its banning.

Dusted off, the painting now lives at The Navy Art Gallery in Washington Yard, where the public’s free to take a gander. Quite the fate for a painting glorifying gay seaman sex long before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Below you’ll find some thumbnails of Cadmus’ other works, including his portraits of homo-photog and former Pretty Things subject George Platt Lynes and Lynne’s lover, Monroe Wheeler.

You’ll notice a lot of nudes. While we don’t know for sure, they may be of his long-time lover, a man named Jon Anderson, with whom Cadmus lived for 35 years until Cadmus’ death in 1999.

Paul Cadmus, The Aviator, 1941Paul Cadmus, Bathers, 1939Paul Cadmus, Portrait of George Platt Lynes, 1938Paul Cadmus, Portrait of Monroe Wheeler, 1937Paul Cadmus, Male Nude TS5, 1954Paul Cadmus, Male Nude NM2, 1965Paul Cadmus, Male Nude Z26, 1998Paul Cadmus, “Me: 1940-1990, 1990″

For more on the history of “The Fleet’s In!”, click here.
And to see more of Cadmus’ work – much of which resides at NYC’s DC Moore Gallery – check out Queer Art’s compilation.