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June 15 Art Minute: Paul Cadmus, "Jerry"

Art Minute
Paul Cadmus (American, 1904–1999), Jerry. Oil on canvas, 1931. 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.9 cm). Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, by exchange, 2008.140

In this frank and intimate portrait, artist Jared French (1905–1988) gazes candidly out at the viewer. Paul Cadmus painted it while he and French were traveling in Europe. At the time the two were involved in a relationship; they would remain lifelong friends, and occasional lovers, even after French married in 1937. Cadmus considered it his first mature work—“Any painting before [Jerry]…I call ‘student work.’” It does not, however, include the biting social or political commentary or satire for which he would become known. Instead, it reveals a startling intimacy and emotional depth that is unusual for the artist. Despite its importance, Jerry was rarely exhibited and remained in the private collection of French and his heirs until acquired by the Museum in 2008.

Cadmus depicts French holding a copy of Ulysses by Irish author James Joyce (1882–1941). From its publication in 1922 the book was controversial, inciting scrutiny ranging from early obscenity trials to protracted textual battles. In 1931, when this portrait was painted, the groundbreaking book would have symbolized everything young American sophisticates Cadmus and French considered desirably European and avant-garde. 

 

Paul Cadmus (American, 1904–1999), Jerry. Oil on canvas, 1931. 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.9 cm). Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, by exchange, 2008.140