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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)

When the topic of government censorship of art is discussed, frequently the story of the painting by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artist Paul Cadmus entitled "The Fleet's In!" is told. The fact that it was removed from an exhibit of WPA art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1934 is well known, but what happened to it afterwards is not. The following chronology is intended to provide background on this painting's very significant place in American art history.


The Fleet's In
Paul Cadmus
Oil on Canvas, 1934





1934: "The Fleet's In!" is painted by Paul Cadmus, an artist working for the Public Works of Art Project. The PWAP is combined into the WPA. The painting is selected by the WPA for inclusion in a show of PWAP art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The exhibition opens with the painting included.
Following the publication of an adverse letter to the editor in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) and subsequent outcry, Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson orders Assistant Secretary of the Navy Henry Latrobe Roosevelt to remove the painting from the show. It is either confined to H. L. Roosevelt's home, the "Navy Department brig," or the Secretary of the Navy's bathroom (depending on which story you believe).

1935(6?): When Assistant SecNav H. L. Roosevelt becomes ill, he has the painting sent
to the Alibi Club, before his death in February 1936.

1944: The painting is the inspiration for Jerome Robbin's ballet "Fancy Free."

1980: A group interested in mounting a Cadmus retrospective threatens to sue the Alibi Club unless the painting is returned to public hands. The Navy takes title to the painting, though it may have remained at the Club on loan for a time.

1981: The Navy has the painting, now in poor condition, restored.

1982: The painting circulates to three or four venues in a Cadmus retrospective. It is the first public exhibition of the painting since 1934.

1983-1985: The painting spends some time in storage, but by 1985 it is on public exhibit
at The Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard, except when it is on loan to other museums.

1993: Female visitors to The Navy Museum on two separate occasions complained that the painting depicts sexual harassment.

1994: After returning from a loan, the painting is hung at the Navy Art Gallery, Washington Navy Yard, where, unless it is on loan, it is on public display.

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1 April 2001