December 12th, 2012

andrew potter

Paul Cadmus & Jon Andersson

Paul Cadmus (December 17, 1904 – December 12, 1999) was an American artist. He is best known for his paintings and drawings of nude male figures. His works combined elements of eroticism and social critique to produce a style often called magic realism. He painted with egg tempera. (Picture: Paul Cadmus by Luigi Lucioni)

In 1934 he painted The Fleet's In! while working for the Public Works of Art Project of the WPA. This painting, featuring carousing sailors, women, and a homosexual couple, was the subject of a public outcry and was removed from exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery. The publicity helped to launch his career. "The Battle of the Corcoran" was a critical turning point in the career of the young, 29 year-old Greenwich Village artist who was suddenly thrust into national prominence. Involving elements of overt censorship, it was brought back into the limelight decades later.

As a young scholar, Philip Eliasoph was given unprecedented access to work with Cadmus to record for posterity the biographical details of his career. Completing 'Paul Cadmus:Life & Work' [SUNY at Binghamton, 1979] Eliasoph realized there was a missing piece as Cadmus' notorious sailor painting was created for the first New Deal art project, the P.W.A.P. and rightfully belonged in the public domain as Federal property. 'The Fleet's In!' had been seized by Navy admirals at the behest of Roosevelt administration officials for the Corcoran's premier event showcasing the first examples of New Deal art patronage, the sexually explicit painting was overtly censored. Secretary of the Navy Swanson stated the [painting] "represents a most disgraceful, sordid, disreputable, drunken brawl.." [Time, April, 30, 1934]. Cadmus defended himself: "I owe the start of my career to the Admiral who tried to suppress it. I didn't feel any moral indignation about those sailors, even though it woundn't be my idea of a good time. I always enjoyed watching them when I was young. I somewhat envied the freedom of their lives and their lack of inhibitions."

Paul Cadmus and Jon Anderson by Jon Gilbert Fox, 1999
Paul Cadmus was an American artist. He is best known for his paintings and drawings of nude male figures. Jon Andersson, who became Paul Cadmus's longtime companion of 35 years, was a subject of many of his works. The two met on a pier on Nantucket in 1964, when Andersson was twenty-seven and Cadmus was fifty-nine. "I never wanted to be with anyone else", Cadmus remarked. Thirty-six years later, at sixty-three and ninety-five, when Paul died, there were still together.

The Fleet's In!, 1933, Navy Art Gallery, Washington Navy Yard

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The painter Paul Cadmus felt "the naiveté of the public was a great benefit if one didn't want to be exposed. I don't think I ever worried about exposure exactly - although I like reticence and I don't like flaunting. But then the world has gotten much more extreme.
"There were never magazines like Screw", Cadmus continued. "The only gay publication that I knew in those days was published in Switzerland, called Der Kreis/Le Cercle. It was bilingual; I think it had French and English. It published some of my drawings and paintings. George Platt Lynes used the pseudonym Roberto Rolf when the magazine published his photos. It printed very good art and had very good stories - not necessarily very gay things but generally homoerotic, I suppose. Not porn. It was quite a charming magazine actually. I would send them photographs of my drawings. It was mailed in a plain wrapper, but it was not junk. I think they published Thomas Mann".
In 1937 Lincoln Kirstein met the painter Paul Cadmus, who pioneered his own style of "magic realism". Cadmus believed Kirstein championed Johnson (Philip n.d.r) later on mostly because he thought he was a good architect. "Lincoln's always been very supportive of good art", said Cadmus, "even when it wasn't popular. He didn't give a damn about what other people liked".
When Kirstein met Cadmus the talented painter had a gentle charm and a magnificent face, and many of their friends believed that Kirstein immediately fell in love with him. Cadmus said Kirstein fell in love with his work; in any event, the painter never reciprocated Kirstein's romantic feelings. "Quite soon after he met me, he met my sister", Cadmus remembered almost six decades later. "I think he met her twice, and then he came to see me one day, and he said "Paul, I want to marry Fidelma".
"But you hardly know her", Cadmus replied. "And she's not like me". But Kirstein was insistent. "I know what I want, I want to marry Fidelma".
"Please don't suddenly surprise her like this", said Cadmus. But "very shortly afterwards", Kirstein took Fidelma to the Plaza and proposed to her, and she soon accepted, although the engagement spanned three years. The marriage lasted until Fidelma was institutionalized for mental illness many years later, but Kirstein continued to sleep with men all his life. Partly through Fidelma, he also kept Cadmus close to him until Kirstein died in 1996. Kirstein also bought many of Cadmus's canvases, and eventually wrote a book that was an homage to the painter's work. In the 1970s, Kirstein built Cadmus a house on the grounds of his Connecticut estate. There, Cadmus lived with his lover, Jon Andersson, and the two of them took care of dinners for Kirstein and his weekend guests every Saturday for years - sort of a friendly catering service.
"He had glamour of course", said Cadmus. "Very dynamic. He knew everybody. He used to have very good parties with people like Callas and Nelson Rockfeller". At a memorial service at the New York State Theater - a building that Kirstein had chosen Philip Johnson to design - Cadmus described his friend as a "benevolent hurricane".
During the war, Cadmus began to send food packages to E.M. Forster in England, after the painter's close friend Margaret French told Cadmus that Forster had seen his work in Time or Newsweek and greatly admired it. They began a correspondence that blossomed into a fine friendship. "He was not shy with me", Cadmus remembered. "He was very astute always. He was no ninny. And he was very scornful of people who didn't enjoy going to Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. He thought those were wonders that people should see. He enjoyed visiting them very much".
Later Forster came to America and visited Cadmus and French in Provincetown, where she and her husband, Jared, had rented a house for the summer. "I and George Tooker were their guests for the summer there", said Cadmus. Provincetown was not particularly gay. "It wasn't like it is now. We weren't there for that. We were there to be at the beach and for working".
Then Cadmus visited Forster in his rooms in Cambridge. "I sat on the window ledge drawing his portrait as he read Maurice to me" - the gay novel that was first published many years after Forster's death. "In two sessions, I guess he read the whole book to me. I loved it. He had no intention of publishing it because of his relationship with his policeman friend. That would have been very damaging to him and (the policeman's) wife".
Like Forster, Cadmus considered himself a moralist: "I admire the virtues of long-term friendships and all the things that Forster writes about: tolerance, sympathy, and kindness".
Paul Cadmus remembered Capote at an outdoor café in Venice shortly after the war. "Truman lifted his cape up and down, up and down, and said, "Come to Taormina! Come to Taormina!"" Cadmus recalled. The painter took Capote's advice and met him at the Italian resort. One day Capote returned from the post office with the mail. "I bring tidings of disaster!" he shouted. "Tennessee's play is a great success!"
"I always liked Truman", said Cadmus. "He didn't give a damn what people thought of his voice or anything else. Brave little thing".
Paul Cadmus spent many happy hours gazing at the sailors who flooded Riverside Park: "A lot of my "gay life" was visual mostly. Not all of it, but more than I wanted. I was rather timid, I guess. I kept most of my dreams about sailors to myself. I used to like watching them, thinking what a good time they were having".--The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser

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