Entering the world of human beings plunges one immediately into a mixture of emotions....but whether uplifting or disgusting, these reactions spring from a vital source.
Paul Cadmus, Credo, 1937
An Early Work
by an American Master
The present work comes from a defining era in Paul Cadmus' personal and artistic life, right as he was coming into his mature style of the satirical, "magical realist" paintings he is known for. The drawing was also done while Cadmus was in Mallorca, Spain where he lived for two years with his lover and fellow artist Jared French.
In the late 1920s, Cadmus was working at an advertising agency in New York and taking classes in lithography at the Arts Student League; it was there that he met French, who is often credited with giving Cadmus the encouragement and confidence to become an artist and give up commercial illustration. In 1931, both men quit their jobs and with savings, embarked on a European trip together, biking through France and Spain, visiting museums and painting along the way.
One of their most important destinations for Cadmus was the Musée Ingres in Montauban; Ingres, along with many other old masters, heavily influenced Cadmus' draftsmanship and classical-inspired scenes of American life. In the present drawing by Cadmus, Pepe #B, one can see echoes of Ingres' sensuous use of line and the intimacy with which he depicted his subjects: often close-up, tactile and just on the surface of the work. Unlike the rousing, critical tone of much of his mature work, Pepe #B is striking in its hushed and tender presence. This same atmosphere is seen in one of Cadmus' earliest paintings, Jerry, a portrait of Jared French he completed in 1931, just after they arrived in Europe.
French and Cadmus arrived in Mallorca in December of 1931, residing in Port d'Andratx, a small fishing village. In an interview with the Smithsonian in 1988, Cadmus recalls that he didn't remember keeping a sketchbook or doing much drawing during the trip, but that he would sometimes draw the villagers and fisherman "on newsprint, which is terrible paper." He noted, "It's a lovely texture to work on, but things have begun to crumble and turn yellow. We didn't know anything about acid-free in those days." While in Mallorca, instead of depicting what he saw around him, Cadmus mostly looked to life in America; he made some of his most important works during this time, including Self-Portrait, YMCA Locker Room, Bicyclists and the first of his sailor paintings, Shore Leave. Pepe #B indeed captures a rare, quiet moment for Cadmus during his time in Mallorca, one where he was looking outward at his immediate surroundings rather than inwardly scrutinizing the America that awaited him when he and French returned.