Paul Cadmus, 94, the figurative, satirical American artist who first gained fame--and notoriety--with his Depression-era painting "The Fleet's In," died Dec. 12 at his home in Weston, Conn.
His painting, then on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, was denounced by a Navy official as the depiction of "a disreputable drunken brawl" and was withdrawn from the exhibition.
Thereafter, Mr. Cadmus earned a strong following but never major status in American art history. In a 1984 documentary, "Paul Cadmus: Enfant Terrible at 80," the artist said he had not tried to be controversial. But he never seemed too unhappy that his lusty, homoerotic and sometimes brutal pseudo-classic tableaux caused some viewers to wince.
"People's noses should be rubbed in all sorts of things--pleasant and unpleasant," he said in the documentary.
As for "The Fleet's In," which was done under auspices of the Public Works of Art Project and rocketed Mr. Cadmus to fame at the age of 29, complaints about it resulted in the painting's being withdrawn from public view.
In 1934, Col. Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy and a cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, declared that the picture would "forever be out of sight." He took it home and later bequeathed it to Washington's private Alibi Club, which hung it over a fireplace.
Rescued by an art historian in the early 1980s, it has since been displayed in the Navy Museum and lent out for temporary exhibit.
A similar Cadmus painting, "Sailors and Floozies," stirred up another ruckus when it was exhibited in San Francisco.
Other Cadmus works--"Coney Island," "Subway Symphony," "Venus and Adonis," "Seven Deadly Sins" and "Herrin Massacre," which depicted the slaughter of strike-breaking miners--helped solidify his reputation as the Robert Mapplethorpe of his era.
The term "magic realism," a phrase coined in the 1940s to describe meticulous style coupled with fantastic or even surreal narration, was often used to describe Cadmus paintings, which also smacked of Old Masters Renaissance revisionism.
Born in New York, the son of a lithographer and children's book illustrator, Mr. Cadmus began studies at the National Academy of Design by age 15. He later studied at the Art Students League.
He worked in commercial art until he became the lover of painter Jared French, and the two went to live in Majorca. It was there Cadmus, working in his characteristic egg tempura, painted the bawdy "Shore Leave" and "YMCA Locker Room."
Mr. Cadmus staged his first one-man show in 1937 at Midtown Galleries in New York City. The headlined controversy over his paintings had an effect: More than 7,000 people attended the show.
The painter's life and career quieted after the turbulent 1930s, and he continued his small but steady flow of work, producing many drawings but no more than 150 canvases.
He was elected an academician of the National Academy and member of both the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His work is represented in collections of museums such as New York's Whitney Museum, Museum of Metropolitan Art, Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, Chicago Art Institute and Seattle Museum.
Survivors include his companion and model, Jon Anderson.