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Ballet Students

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Ballet Students

Artist: Paul Cadmus (American, 1904 - 1999)

Date: 1943
Medium: Graphite on cream-colored, medium-weight wove paper
Overall: 9 3/4 x 12 1/4in. (24.8 x 31.1cm)
Inscribed: Recto, right margin (graphite): "lemon yellow walls? / grey trim / on jaded turquoise / kelly green tights / on Sandy / maroon tights / turquoise shirt / on Don"; recto, center right margin (graphite): "enlargement of experience / synthesis o f experience"; (written parallel to edge of paper); upper right (graphite) "Paul / Cadmus" (written in reverse, on image of window facing outdoors); verso, lower left (graphite): "Paul Cadmus August 1943"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase, in part, by the William and Catherine Palmer Fund
Object number: 90.39
Text Entries

Ballet Students is a study for Cadmus’s 1944 painting Reflection (private collection, New York).(4) In the MWPI drawing, Cadmus depicted a studio with three resting dancers in the foreground; a woman, reflected in a mirror, demonstrating the ballet position battement a la seconde; and another man, also seen in reflection, leaning on a windowsill. Cadmus has identified the man reclining on the bench as Sandy Campbell, the man reclining on the floor as Donald Wyndham, and the seated woman as Cadmus’s sister, Fidelma. The artist based her likeness in this drawing on another 1943 sketch.(5) Fidelma was married to Lincoln Kirstein, whom Cadmus met in 1937.(6) Kirstein, a pioneering advocate for classical ballet in the United States, was instrumental in bringing George Balanchine to this country. Together, Kirstein and Balanchine established the School of American Ballet in 1934. Cadmus’s relationship to Kirstein enabled him to observe the school’s classes regularly and to draw dancers in rehearsal.

Cadmus’s art training was an academic one that emphasized draftsmanship as the basis of careful composition. Inasmuch as he made the MWPI drawing in preparation for a painting, Cadmus’s choice of graphite and the extreme control with which he used it are appropriate for future translation to the precise egg tempera he favored at the time. Moreover, the drawing demonstrates his sensitivity to the analogous handling of material to subject matter.(7) Kirstein described the School of American Ballet’s rehearsal room as having “cubed spatial boundaries . . . [with] barres in forced perspective.(8) The one-point perspective that governs the MWPI drawing, coupled with a stage-like setting that allows little visual escape to the outside world (there is only a reflection of exterior space), exaggerates the underlying tautness created by so artificial and hermetic an atmosphere. Paradoxically, however, the langorous poses four of the five dancers in the drawing strike belie the strictures of their calling and environment. Therefore, in addition to creating a faithful representation of the room, Cadmus used the controlled space of the studio metaphorically. A disciple of Renaissance esthetics, he found the rigor of classical ballet an important parallel to his own structured approach to the visual arts.(9) In the painted version, Reflection, Cadmus obscurely weds the disciplines of perspective and the ballet into a reflection of himself: the perspectival lines converge on the head of the male dancer on the bench, but the profile in shadow is Cadmus’s.(10)


1. Both Johnson and Miller and Davenport incorrectly dated the drawing to 1944.

2. Cadmus to Paul D. Schweizer, April 21, 1990, stated that he does not recall whatmhe meant by this inscription.

3. Because the artist’s name is supposed to be reflected in the mirror, it would, in fact, be seen in the correct orientation.

4. Illustrated in Lincoln Kirstein, Paul Cadmus (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1984), 135. Philip Eliasoph, in “Paul Cadmus: Life and Work” (Ph.D. diss., SUNY Binghamton, 1978), 274, stated that the painting was in the collection of Sandy Campbell, the dancer reclining on the bench; Midtown-Payson Gallery confirms that the painting is still in a New York private collection. Other examples of Cadmus’s work with ballet themes include Arabesque, 1941 (reproduced in Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, 49); Dancer, 1945 (Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, 48); and several drawings reproduced in Davenport, Drawings of Paul Cadmus, 40, 46, 47, 68, 70, 88, 90, 122, 124, 141, and 142.

5. Cadmus to Paul D. Schweizer, April 21, 1990. See Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, 117, for the drawing of Fidelma, and 135 for a 1943 portrait of Sandy Campbell.

6. Cadmus and Kirstein met working on the ballet “Filling Station" for the Ballet Caravan, a precursor to the New York City Ballet; see Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, 51. In 1939, Kirstein and Cadmus also collaborated on Ballet Alphabet, an illustrated primer for an American audience largely unfamiliar with the subject.

7. Cadmus worked in a variety of drawing styles. For an updated interpretation of “Venus and Adonis,” in which Cadmus arranged the figures in a rather baroque composition, he adapted an ink and wash technique with strong chiaroscuro reminiscent of Poussin; see Davenport, Drawings of Paul Cadmus, 59. For figure studies in the 19305 and 19405, Cadmus frequently used pen and ink, often in combination with pencil, watercolor, or gouache, and defined a figures volume by extensive cross-hatching. While these studio works reveal the academic rigor that governs all of Cadmus’s work, they are looser than the tightly handled MWPI drawing.

8. Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, S1.

9. Ibid., and Eliasoph, “Paul Cadmus,” 277-78. The spatial conceits of quattrocentro Italian masters such as Andrea Mantegna make interesting comparisons to Cadmus’s work. The below-the-floor point of view in Arabesque is reminiscent of the same device Mantegna used in his St. james cycle for the Chapel of the Ovetari in the Church of the Eremitani, Padua.

10. Cadmus to Paul D. Schweizer, April 21, 1990. In the MWPI drawing, the perspectival lines also converge on the head of the male dancer on the bench, but in the drawing the profile in shadow on the wall is that of the dancer, Sandy Campbell.


Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).