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1940 Fifty Years Ago

May 2024
1min read

The Red Army occupied the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, installing Communist governments in each country. “The people of the United States are opposed to predatory activities,” said Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles. “They are likewise opposed to any form of intervention on the part of one state, however powerful, in the domestic concerns of another state, however weak.” But Welles could do little more than express his government’s disapproval. By the beginning of August the three Baltic republics had been formally incorporated into the Soviet Union.

The artist Paul Cadmus enjoyed representing the escapades of American sailors on leave in his paintings, even though one such work had been removed from a Public Works of Art Project exhibition in Washington’s Corcoran Gallery in 1934. Early in August, Cadmus’s painting Sailors and Floozies , which showed two sailors and a Marine cavorting drunkenly with three prostitutes, caused a similar controversy when the head of the art exhibition at San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition, Dr. Walter Heil, anticipated the Navy’s protests and ordered it removed. “There’s too much smell about it,” Heil said. “It’s not a masterpiece. It’s just unpleasant.”

Criticism from San Francisco’s press persuaded Heil’s superiors to restore the painting to the exhibit. One Navy spokesman agreed with the decision: “We’ve learned from earlier foolish Navy squawks against other Cadmus paintings. It does us no good and merely gives the artist publicity.” The artist expressed disbelief that his painting could be considered unpatriotic. “Nobody expects or wants the Navy to be made up of Lord Fauntleroys and Galahads,” Cadmus said. “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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