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. This chronology is revised as
of September 2015 to reflect recently discovered documents.
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. Prior to exhibition opening, a letter to the
editor by a retired Navy Admiral in The Evening Star (Washington),
D.C. described the painting as offensive. During the 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. At that
point, custody is transferred from the WPA to the US Navy. The
painting 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
1935(6?): Assistant Secretary of the Navy H. L. Roosevelt sends the painting to
the Alibi Club, an exclusive all men's club near Dupont Circle in Washington,
D.C. H. L. Roosevelt dies suddenly in
1944: The painting is the inspiration for Jerome Robbin's ballet "Fancy
1980: A group interested in mounting a retrospective exhibit of Paul Cadmus’
art requests loan of the painting. The
request sparks an exchange of correspondence between the Alibi Club and the
General Services Administration regarding its legal custody. In November 1980, the Alibi Club returns the
painting to the Navy, from which it had been received.
September 1981 – July 1982: The Navy
lends the painting to the Cadmus retrospective, which is scheduled for five
venues continuing until July 1982. It is
the first public exhibition of the painting since 1934.
February 1982: During a break in the
loan schedule, the painting, which had been in poor condition, is restored.
July 1982: The painting completes its tour.
News of the initial loan sparks more requests. From this time, unless it is out on loan, the
painting is on public exhibit at The Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard.
1993: Female visitors to The Navy Museum on two separate occasions complain
that the painting depicts sexual harassment.
1994: The painting is returned to the Navy Art Collection. This
painting is the most famous painting within the collection and is often on loan
to domestic and international museums.