PAUL CADMUS, American artist, born (d. 1999); Best known for his paintings and drawings of nude male figures, Cadmus’s works combined elements of eroticism and social critique to produce a style often called magic realism. He painted with egg tempera, a medium which had been associated with Greek icons. If there ever was a painter who could render the male ass more erotic than Paul Cadmus, this writer has never seen it. His unique blending of realism and sexual playfulness shocked viewers in the 1930s, and The Fleet’s In, Cadmus’s suggestion of naval sexuality, caused a scandal when the U.S. Navy order the painting seized. All he had done to cause such a ruckus was to paint well-developed men in tight-fitting Navy uniforms and to suggest they might be interested in a couple of young women. That sailors were in pursuit of sex put the Navy in a snit. But the scandal — written up in every newspaper and magazine — made Cadmus’s career. The Navy should have seen the many other works in which the sailors obviously wanted each other!
He worked in commercial illustration as well, but Jared French, another tempera artist who befriended him and became his lover, convinced him to devote himself completely to fine art. Other early works of particular interest for their homoeroticism are YMCA Locker Room (1933), Shore Leave (1933), and Greenwich Village Cafeteria (1934). Like The Fleet’s In!, these works also document homosexual cruising and seduction.
In Cadmus’s paintings, significant exchanges of glances signal sexual longing and availability, often in the very midst of mundane activities. His work documents the surreptitious cruising rituals of an urban, gay male subculture in the 1930s.
Cadmus’s painting What I Believe (1947-1948) was inspired by E.M. Forster’s essay of the same name, in which the novelist expresses his faith in personal relations and his concept of a spiritual aristocracy “of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human condition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos.”
He lived with his companion of 35 years, Jon Anderson, who was a subject of many of his works.