PAULCADMUS: Some of these sailors are rather sympathetic, as well as one of the girls- the one in the ridiculous hat. I don’t know where I invented that hat….
NARRATOR: Artist Paul Cadmus. He called this painting Sailors and Floozies. It’s set in Manhattan’s Riverside Park, near a monument called the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial. Richard Meyer teaches art history at the University of Southern California.
RICHARDMEYER: One of the things that Cadmus did, which is quite amazing about this painting, is that he created a unique frame…And what he did in the painted frame is, he continued some of the graffiti that is depicted on… the [Sailors and Soldiers] Memorial, within the painting, that graffiti continues around the frame of the painting. So he’s sort of bringing a decorative element, but also, some part of the story, of the fiction of the painting, out onto the frame of the painting.
NARRATOR: Notice that the sailors here aren’t really paying attention to the floozies.
MEYER: Cadmus, whenever there is heterosexual pairing in his paintings, something goes wrong. What he seems more interested in is a certain homoeroticism.
NARRATOR: Some critics were upset by this image when it was first shown. They called it tawdry, repulsive, unpatriotic. Ironically, it wasn’t the homoerotic content per se that caused the controversy—rather, critics were offended by the depiction of Navy sailors drunk and carousing on the eve of World War Two.
CADMUS: I replied to them, “I think the picture portrays an enjoyable side of Navy life. I think it would make a good recruiting poster. I will raise my prices.”