In 1937 on Fire Island, Paul Cadmus, Jared and Margaret French forged a photographic collaboration they called PaJaMa, an amalgamation of the first two letters of each of their first names. The trio produced intimately posed photographs that detailed their relationships, both amongst themselves and within Fire Island’s thriving artistic community. George Platt Lynes, a friend and well-known fashion photographer, often photographed them, and they him. He encouraged their photographic pursuits. They alternated as figures within the compositions, along with their friends, many of whom were figures in the New York art, dance, literary and theater worlds. The three artists formed a close, even incestuous group, since Cadmus and Jared French were lovers. They worked together primarily in the summer, on beaches along the Eastern Seaboard and in New York apartments. In addition to themselves, their sitters included the painter George Tooker; the photographer George Platt Lynes; Monroe Wheeler, a Museum of Modern Art curator; and Fidelma Cadmus, sister of Paul Cadmus and wife of Lincoln Kirstein, a founder of the New York City Ballet.
The painters Jared French, Paul Cadmus, and Margaret French began to experiment with a camera during summers on the beaches of Fire Island and Provincetown. Their subjects included friends and family, but primarily they studied each other through the camera’s eye over a period of twenty years. They collected the photographs, saved them in albums, and distributed them to lovers and friends. No great care was taken until the 1980’s as photography became Art. The value of their work was then recognized, exhibited, and sold to collectors.
Cadmus and French were never wholly accepted by the Art establishment. Their work was never quite in fashion. Nevertheless they continued to devote themselves to their original visions.
Jared French was profoundly influenced by his use of the camera, and the photographs were often studies for his paintings. Margaret French saved the kodachrome slides and with the help of Paul Cadmus supplying the dates and places a book was published in 1992 called “Collaboration.”
1931. Paul Cadmus, 26, made this painting of his lover Jared French. The painting, Jerry, remained in the French family until recently, when it was acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art. The painting is on view in a recent acquisitions exhibition and will move into Toledo’s permanent collection galleries next month.
Jerry is among the earliest examples of Cadmus’ painterly interest in the male nude, then a most uncommon subject for American painters. By the end of the 1930s Cadmus had learned that he could focus on the male nude all he liked so long as he included an element of social satire in his paintings. As one of Cadmus’ earliest mature paintings — according to Toledo curator Amy Gilman, Cadmus considered it his very first mature work — Jerrypre-dates that discovery.
The small painting — it’s just 20-by-24 inches — is strikingly intimate. Cadmus has shifted the perspective of the painting toward the viewer (or the artist) by pushing the pillow and the sheets in the top half of the painting toward the picture plane. French is holding James Joyce’s Ulysses, a book then banned in the United States for being obscene. (According to Richard Meyer’s superbOutlaw Representation, a friend of the artists’ had smuggled the book into the US from Europe and had given it to them as a gift. Ulysses was first published in Paris in 1922.)
French was a frequent subject and model for both Cadmus’ paintings and photographs. They met at the Art Students League in New York and Cadmus later credited French with encouraging him to pursue fine art subjects rather than commercial work. In Intimate Companions, author David Leddick quotes Glenway Wescott describing French as: “A commonly handsome man of my age, with a small eye and a tough little blond mustache; with a certain stolidity that highly sexed men often have…” French and Cadmus were lovers when this picture was painted and remained lovers even after French’s marriage to Margaret Hoening in 1937.
Given the resemblance between French and the men in scores of Tom of Finland drawings, it’s worth noting that Cadmus’ work was indeed a particular point of departure for Touko Laaksonen, who is better known as Tom of Finland. While I don’t know if Tom ever saw Jerry (it’s unlikely as the first known reproduction was a small black-and-white image in the 1977 Cadmus catalogue raisonne), Cadmus was one of Tom’s major influences.