America Is Hard to See

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.

704Paul Cadmus, Sailors and Floosies, 1938


Paul Cadmus (1904-1999), Sailors and Floosies, 1938. Oil and tempera on linen mounted on composition board, with wood frame, 33 11/16 × 48 1/2 in. (85.6 × 123.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Malcolm S. Forbes 64.42a-b Art © Jon F. Anderson, Estate of Paul Cadmus, Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

PAUL CADMUS: 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 Floosies. It’s set in Manhattan’s Riverside Park, near a monument called the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial. Art historian Richard Meyer.

RICHARD MEYER: 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 floosies.

RICHARD 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 II.  

PAUL 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."

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