Title: Untitled (Study for Painting)
Dimensions: Image: 10 1/4 x 13 1/2 inches (26 x 34.3 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of the Harriett Ames Charitable Trust
Gorky arrived in America in 1920, a refugee from the Turkish/Armenian conflict during which he and his sister watched their mother die of starvation. This early traumatic experience would inform much of his work, which is unflinchingly autobiographical. In 1925 Gorky moved to New York where he began a five-year affiliation with the Grand Central School of Art, and by 1930 he had his first work exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art. Study for Painting was done soon after and uses many elements derived from his spiritual mentors — Picasso, Miró, and Léger. In many ways Gorky embodies the transition from a European to an American aesthetic; he spent many years apprenticed to the styles of late Cubism and Surrealism, compounded with a decidedly American viewpoint. This drawing (a study for the Whitney Museum's Painting, 1936-37) falls into this transitional category. In 1948, depressed after an operation for cancer and a car crash that had broken his neck and with his personal life in shambles, Gorky committed suicide. (From “A Handbook of the Collection: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art," 1998)
One wonders about the story behind this drawing, created in 1932 but not transferred to canvas until four or five years later (Painting, 1936-37, Whitney Museum of American Art.) The drawing has the feel of an etching, with its cross-hatched lines, dense areas of black, and linear layout of nebulous, organic components.
While the painting replicates the drawing fairly faithfully, emotionally it is completely different. The addition of color has defined the shapes in a solid way and is much more deliberate: the feel is of a still life, perhaps on a white sand beach, looking out over the sea. The pen and ink version has a different energy, the lines squiggled and hurried in some places, dense and foreboding in others, more of a memento mori. (“Drawing the Line: 150 Years of European Artists on Paper," curated by Nancy E. Green and presented at the Johnson Museum January 20–June 10, 2018)
NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.