Cover Guy: Paul Cadmus by Luigi Lucioni

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.

Luigi Lucioni. Paul Cadmus, 1928.

Luigi Lucioni (American, born Italy, 1900-1988). Paul Cadmus, 1928. Oil on canvas, 16 x 12 1/8 in. (40.6 x 30.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 2007.28.

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.

Glove Brand Galoshes and Rubbers

Paul Cadmus. Glove Brand Galoshes and Rubbers, 1928. Commercial illustration, tear sheet, New York Herald Tribune, Oct. 14, 1928. 14 x 10 1/2 in. Image from: Eliasoph, Philip. Paul Cadmus: Yesterday & Today. Oxford, Ohio: Miami University Art Museum, 1981.

From Wall Flower to Butterfly

Paul Cadmus. From Wall Flower to Butterfly, 1930. Commercial illustration, tear sheet, Boot and Shoe Recorder, Aug. 2, 1930. 3 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. Image from: Eliasoph, Philip. Paul Cadmus: Yesterday & Today. Oxford, Ohio: Miami University Art Museum, 1981.

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.