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Object Information:

Artist: Paul Cadmus, American, 1904-1999

What I Believe


Tempera on panel

16 1/4 x 27in (41.3 x 68.6cm)

Gift of Robert L. B. Tobin



On Exhibition  On view/Hamon Gallery 2

Further Information:

A 1938 essay by English humanist E. M. Forster inspired the title of this painting. Written during the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, the essay calls for tolerance and goodness over violence and cruelty.

In What I Believe, two standing figures separate the worlds of good (left side) and evil (right side). Seated on the left are Paul Cadmus, who is drawing, and Jared French, a long-time friend and fellow artist. Standing behind them are French's wife, Margaret, and Forster. In the background, the man playing the flute with a cat on his head is Lincoln Kirstein, the artist's brother-in-law and a well-known art patron who started the American Ballet Company with George Balanchine. The artist's sister, Fidelma, who was Kirstein's wife, and herself an accomplished painter, rests her head on her husband's leg. Cadmus presents symbols of art, literature, music, and architecture as the world of good. In the center far distance, a beaming lighthouse symbolizes the Enlightenment.

In the foreground on the right, Death covers his face in horror as he descends into a freshly dug grave. On a jagged edifice rising above the mass of lethargic people, three military figures direct missiles beneath dark clouds.

Cadmus worked for more than a year on this complex egg tempera painting, which unlike oil paint, is fast drying and leaves no room for error.


© Jon F. Anderson, Estate of Paul Cadmus/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Artist/Maker Bio

Cadmus, Paul