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.

Jared French and Paul Cadmus, c. 1940

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.

Studies for the Cadaver of Acron, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, c. 1810,
Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

YMCA Locker Room, Paul Cadmus, 1933

I'm called a realist painter; I don’t know how realistic I am. Sometimes "magic realist," sometimes "symbolic realist;" in any case, always representational. I want people to know what I am saying. I want clarity, but I need mystery.

Paul Cadmus

The Mark Isaacson
and Greg Nacozy Collection

The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy includes over two-hundred works from one of the most significant figures in mid-century collecting. Mark established the influential Fifty/50 gallery in New York in 1981 (later partnering with Mark McDonald and Ralph Cutler in 1983), which shaped the tastes and collecting habits of many and brought furniture, decorative arts and jewelry from the 1930s, 40s and 50s to the forefront of the market at a time when they were largely overlooked.

Greg Nacozy and Mark Isaacson in Venice, c. 1985 

Fifty/50’s and Mark’s legacy is most closely associated with bringing Italian art glass to the United States (Mark even advised the MET on their Italian glass collection) and raising the profile of mid-century furniture and American studio jewelry and ceramics; iconic examples of each are represented in this auction, including an early Rudder Stool by Isamu Noguchi, Charlotte Perriand’s and Pierre Jeanneret’s Bahut No. 2, a Gerrit Rietveld Zig-Zag chair, pottery by Edwin and Mary Scheier and Fausto Melotti, and Venini glassworks.

The most exciting aspects of this auction are the more intimate ones—the works from Mark's and Greg's personal collection that speak to Mark's eclectic taste, his boundless curiosity and sensitivity toward objects and art, and how generous he was in sharing his interests with others and letting them share with him. Standouts include several works by Robert Mapplethorpe—who was close friends with Mark, photographed several Fifty/50 catalogs and got many of the ceramics in his photographs from the gallery—the ecstatic wood construction Wild Plant by Leo Amino, a painting by Ralston Crawford of a spectacularly minimalist skyscraper façade, and photographic works by Man Ray, Edward Weston, Lynn Davis and Dorothea Lange.

Mark with Ed and Mary Scheier; Robert Mapplethorpe and Mark

This auction also features many works that tie together the thread of Mark’s collecting practices, going beyond the downtown New York sensibilities of the 1980s and showing the scope of eras and cultures that interested him; the sgraffito incisions on a 1940s Scheier vase echo the geometric features of a Senufo Kpeliye'e mask, the entrancing and complex shadows of a grain elevator in a photograph by Ralston Crawford contrast with the severe plainness of a New York City step-back building captured by Walker Evans, and the radical gestures of gay image making are seen in the works of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus and Robert Loughlin. One of the artists in this sale, George Dureau, a photographer from New Orleans (where Greg is also from) who greatly influenced Mapplethorpe early in his career, perhaps best captures the spirit of this collection, saying about his own work:

“I live a warm, involved, humanist sort of life. There are lots of people passing through it. I have exciting experiences and learn things about people. They always go into my art. I cannot have an experience and it not go into my art.”
Mark and a friend at Brimfield; Mark's and Greg's apartment; Mark and Greg at The Armory Show

Fifty/50 gallery reshaped the collecting market during its twelve-year existence, closing in 1993 after Mark passed away from AIDS; his partner Greg has cared for the collection since.  The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy offers an opportunity to see a short but impactful life lived through an enthusiasm for art and design, one that inspired many to see and appreciate objects and live with them as fully as Mark did.