Paul Cadmus

Sailors and Floosies

On view
Floor 7



Oil and tempera on linen mounted on composition board, with wood frame

Overall (framed): 33 11/16 × 48 1/2in. (85.6 × 123.2 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Gift of Malcolm S. Forbes

Rights and reproductions
© Estate of Paul Cadmus / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Sailors and Floosies, the third painting in a trilogy on the theme of on-leave sailors that Paul Cadmus completed between 1933 and 1938, exemplifies the artist’s predilection for social satire. His use of tempera, a classical painting medium, and interest in articulating the musculature and anatomy of the human form recalled Italian Renaissance masters, but his subject matter was truly contemporary, even risqué, in its mockery of modern American life. Here, the artist exaggerates the tight fit of the sailors’ uniforms and the dresses clinging to the women’s bodies to heighten the scene’s sexual energy. The sailor in the foreground with one arm raised over his head, is modeled on the well-known Renaissance posture of the sleeping faun. His idealized classical beauty is juxtaposed with the vulgar, harpy-like “floosie” who hovers over him. Such acerbic scenes of carousing sailors (and the light in which they cast the Navy) generated intense debate in their time. The painting was first exhibited at the 1940 San Francisco World’s Fair, and promptly incited a national controversy that resulted in its removal from the walls—although it was reinstalled in the exhibition two days later.  


  • America Is Hard to See

    Paul Cadmus, Sailors and Floosies, 1938

    Paul Cadmus, Sailors and Floosies, 1938


    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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