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Paul Cadmus (1904-1999)

The Fleet's In


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.

Description: The Fleet's In Paul Cadmus Oil on Canvas, 1934 34-5-A

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 you believe).

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 February 1936.

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

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.


Published: Mon Oct 30 11:08:24 EDT 2017