This face may look familiar to you . . . ! As our signature image for Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties. Luigi Lucioni’s stellar portrait of his friend and colleague, Paul Cadmus, is reproduced on BIG posters throughout the subway system. The portrait is actually small scale, and quite intimate in expression as well. Like almost every object in the exhibition, it is an idealized image, but one that offers a very real window on the actualities of 1920s America.
Not yet established as a painter, Cadmus was a rising young advertising artist for the Blackman Company, and did drawings for ads for shoes, among other things. Many twenties artists spent time in the world of advertising, either getting their start there or supplementing their incomes. The twenties were in fact the first golden age of advertising, when the field became a “science” to which new insights into human psychology were very eager applied; Edward Bernays, a consultant to many ad firms, happened to be Sigmund Freud’s nephew. Artists in advertising embraced stylish fashion (note Cadmus’s amazing green tie!) and recalibrated the notion of artistic appearance in a way that paralleled changes in advertising design—an ad for the new industry journal, Printer’s Ink, described this fresh, unsentimental brand of advertising as “clean-cut” and “well-groomed,” referring to a modernist graphic simplicity.
Incidentally, the New York Art Director’s Club was founded in 1920, as the career of advertising artist solidified into something pretty close to what we know today. It’s no surprise, then, that Sinclair Lewis’s dull-minded consumer par excellence—George Babbitt—got worked up about the fact that in Europe artists were “shabby bums living in attics and feeding on booze and spaghetti,” while in the States they were” indistinguishable from any other decent businessman. “ However fashionable a career it had become, most twenties artists were pleased to leave behind their advertising days.
Stay tuned for more ideal works from Youth and Beauty and some insights into how they offer subtle windows on the actualities of life in twenties America.
Terry Carbone received her Masters in the History of Art from the University of Delaware, and her Doctorate from the CUNY Graduate Center. She has been on the curatorial staff of the Brooklyn Museum since 1985, and is now the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art. She served as co-curator of the major exhibition "Eastman Johnson: Painting America", in 1999, and as co-author and volume editor of the accompanying exhibition catalogue of the same title, which was awarded the New York State Historical Associations' prestigious Henry Allen Moe Prize. She also served as project director for the innovative reinstallation of the Museum's American art galleries, which opened in 2001 as "American Identities: A New Look." More recently Terry completed the project to which she has devoted much of her tenure at the museum: serving as principal author of a two volume scholarly catalogue "American Paintings in the Brooklyn Museum: Artists Born by 1876." This publication was recently awarded the College Art Association's Alfred H. Barr Prize, presented each year for an especially distinguished museum publication on the history of art. Terry has now begun work on a major exhibition on the American 1920s.