Audio: Arshille Gorky Lot 50B
Arshile Gorky (1904-1948)
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Property of the Family of Arshile Gorky and the Arshile Gorky Foundation
Arshile Gorky (1904-1948)

Untitled (Pastoral)

Arshile Gorky (1904-1948)
Untitled (Pastoral)
oil and graphite on canvas
44 x 56 in. (111.8 x 142.2 cm.)
Painted circa 1947.
Estate of the Artist
Acquired from the above by the present owners
Beverly Hills, Gagosian Gallery, Masters of the Gesture, October-November 2010.
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Arshile Gorky: 1947, May-July 2011.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Joan Miró and Arshile Gorky: In Dialogue, October 2013-May 2014.
Sale room notice
This Lot is Withdrawn.

Brought to you by

Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

This work is catalogued in the Arshile Gorky Foundation Archives as #P370.

A third of the proceeds from the sale of this painting will go to fund
the Foundation's forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné.

Arshile Gorky’s Untitled (Pastoral) is a recently discovered painting which for over sixty years has sat underneath Pastoral (1947), a work from the same series of paintings and exquisitely rendered works on paper created between 1946-47. Uncovered when Pastoral was sent for reframing in preparation for a 2010 exhibition, the present work was found directly below, attached to the original stretcher that Gorky used when Pastoral entered the inventory of Julien Levy Gallery in 1947. Protected by the outer painting like a defensive shell, Untitled (Pastoral) has retained the same fresh and vibrant surface that it possessed when it was painted over half a century ago. -

The evocative arrangement of amorphous forms is thought to be derived from a drawing of a walnut tree found in a valley on Crooked Run Farm in Lincoln, Virginia. In 1946, Gorky spent almost five months at the farm—a property owned by his in-laws Admiral and Mrs. John H. Magruder II—where he produced a significant portfolio of drawings. Writing to his sister Vartoosh shortly before his return to New York that year, Gorky proudly described his fecundity: “This summer I completed a lot of drawings—292 of them. Never have I been able to do so much work, and they are good too” (A letter from Arshile Gorky to Vartoosh Mooradian, dated November 17, 1946, Arshile Gorky Research Collection, Francis Mulhall Achilles Library, Archives, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). This important material—from sketches to densely rendered drawings—would sustain Gorky’s work during a prolific period of painting the following summer, when he produced important works such as The Betrothal (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven), Agony (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), Pastoral (Private Collection), and the present lot.

Untitled (Pastoral) exemplifies the technique that Gorky introduced during the winter of 1942-43 when, at the suggestion of Roberto Matta, he thinned his paint with turpentine in order to allow the pigment to freely drip and run. This resulted in a shift from the hard-edged, flat forms of his earlier work to more fluid compositions where softer, looser configurations seemed to float across the surface of the canvas. Throughout this multi-layered painting, Gorky presents a variety of forms that demonstrate his unique visual vocabulary. Dominated by a tumultuous palette of varying shades of burnt umber, the composition is interspersed with meticulously chosen passages of bright, vibrant color that range from golden yellows and warm oranges to effervescent spring greens and fuchsias.

The traces of graphite lines that filter through the upper layers of pigment suggest that Untitled (Pastoral) was the first exploration of this theme on canvas, pre-dating the yellow Pastoral of course, but also Terra Cotta (1947; Private Collection) of the same series and a related painting entitled Anti-Medusa (1947; Diocese of the Armenian Church of America [Eastern]). Initially situating the forms in graphite, before committing to them permanently in pigment, Gorky’s confident painterly style is much in evidence in this work. So, why then did he cover it up? There are no definitive clues, but one explanation is that it was painted during August when all the art stores in New York were closed for the summer and Gorky had run out of stretchers and simply made another painting of the same composition on top of it. He then sent the yellow Pastoral to Julien Levy Gallery where it would feature in the artist’s final solo show before his death (Arshile Gorky, February 29 – March 20, 1948). The painting was eventually returned to the artist’s Estate, without Gorky’s widow knowing about the hidden painting underneath.

Untitled (Pastoral)’s ethereal palette was one which had begun to appear in Gorky’s work as early as 1946 when he began to suffer a number of hardships, including the destruction of more than twenty paintings during a fire in his Sherman, Connecticut studio. Indeed, the artist’s Charred Beloved series (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, and Private Collections) of 1946 and the masterpiece Agony (Museum of Modern Art, New York) of 1947 share the same subdued tones which are often read in relation to the traumatic events of the artist’s life during this period. However, the lyrical nature of Untitled (Pastoral)’s composition reflects his increasing interest in interpreting the Arcadian nature of the pastoral scenes that so inspired him. During his visits to the countryside he would spend days out in the fields, intently studying the natural forms—the trees, plants, grasses and other native fauna—that he witnessed there. He often worked en plein air, and his ever changing environment and landscape began to seep into this new formal vocabulary, as the identifiable aspects of his images were altered by eliminating specific or biological details, as can be seen in the present lot.

Gorky was especially prolific and energized during the summer of 1947, when he stayed in New York to paint while his family vacationed in Castine, Maine. A family friend, who visited him during this period, wrote to the artist’s wife, Agnes “Mougouch” Gorky, that she found him in good spirits: “ . . . I was feeling very disturbed for fear that at a distance and with your own concerns you might have been anguished for Arshile. I think he is all right. He is painting now and I have seen two canvases, and they are very lovely. It is always amazing to me that out of his anguish he always emerges with something that makes no mention of same. What he has painted is like a butterfly or many butterflies, lovely fragile and depersonified.” (A letter from Jeanne Reynal to Agnes Magruder Gorky, dated August 2, 1947, quoted in M. Spender (ed.), Arshile Gorky, Goats on the Roof: A Life in Letters and Documents, London, 2009, p. 343).

Although Gorky’s career was cut short by his early death in 1948, his work was to have a profound effect on the generation of Abstract Expressionist painters that would follow. His exceptional ability to distill a range of experiences, both physical and emotional, into a single work would provide an irresistible source of inspiration and ideas for decades to come. The newly discovered Untitled (Pastoral) succinctly encapsulates many of the ideas that Gorky was pioneering in the final months of his life. For Gorky, the elusive nature of the memories of his Armenian homeland and his enduring passion for nature clearly demonstrate the universal supremacy of his art.

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