A painter, muralist, and art educator, Joseph Lambert Cain’s work was consistently infused by the color and vibrancy of his native New Orleans, even as he pursued a career that took him far from home. Beginning at the age of sixteen, his educational journey led him first to the Art Institute of Chicago and then to the Art Students League in New York, where he was instructed by Kenneth Hayes Miller and Kimon Nicolaides. He later studied under the Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann. A 1929 Carnegie Fellowship funded a year’s enrollment at the Sorbonne in Paris and travel throughout Europe; Cain also received multiple Tiffany Foundation Fellowships.
Using thickly applied paint, layered color planes, and multiple perspectives, Cain created paintings, including streetscapes, marine scenes, and landscapes, which were sometimes categorized as “decorative expressionism” beginning in the late 1930s. In 1932, Cain’s entry to the First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art hung in the exhibition’s entry way; other works were shown at such prestigious venues as the Museum of Modern Art, American Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, National Academy of Design, and Carnegie Institute. He also executed a monumental mural at New York State Training School where he was employed as a teacher. While living in New York during this period, Cain was an integral member of a contemporary art collective known as “The Group,” whose participants included Milton Avery, George Biddle, Robert Gwathmey, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and many other important Modernists.
In 1944, Cain joined the faculty at the University of Rhode Island, establishing and chairing the art department for over two decades. Cain continued to paint long past his retirement from teaching, often returning to New Orleans subject matter in canvases that capture the bright color and festive energy of his birthplace.