Arshile Gorky to his daughters, summer 1947
Late spring, 1947: Agnes ‘Mougouch’ Gorky takes her children, Maro, four years old, and Natasha, not yet two, to Maine, where they remain for the summer in the seaside town of Castine. Arshile Gorky stays in New York at his studio, at 36 Union Square, to paint. Before leaving, Mougouch gives her husband a pile of stamped postcards helpfully addressed to ‘Mrs. Gorky’ in Maine.’
During this solitary summer in New York, Gorky sends the cards to his family and works intensely, creating a number of significant works—many of which are now considered masterpieces, among them ‘The Betrothal’ (Yale University Art Gallery) and ‘Agony’ and ‘Summation’ (both in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art). Despite his personal artistic flourishing, Gorky becomes increasingly lonely and anxious as the months go by. The art dealer Julien Levy, who met Gorky in 1932 and represented him from 1944–48, recalled Gorky’s words to him that summer: ‘I tell stories to myself, often, while I paint, often nothing to do with the painting. Have you ever listened to a child telling that ‘This is a house,’ and ‘This is a man,’ and ‘This is a cow in the sunlight’…while his crayon wanders in an apparently meaningless scrawl all over the paper?
‘The art dealer Julien Levy, who met Gorky in 1932 … recalled Gorky’s words to him that summer: ‘I tell stories to myself, often, while I paint, often nothing to do with the painting.’’
Struggling to communicate with words, Gorky turns to imagery in the postcards he sends that summer—especially in the two reproduced on this page, written to his young daughters, which reveal his figurative, decorative line. The postcards are at the same time artworks and archival documents. At the center of the one to Natasha he has included a reference to her beloved baby doll, and the motif on the left of the card to Maro—perhaps a dog—is found and reworked in numerous drawings and paintings related to the ‘Agony’ and ‘Pastoral’ series. ‘Untitled’ (study for ‘Agony’), completed the previous year, included the same figure (lower center).
The study is currently on view, alongside the major milestones of Gorky’s work, in ‘Arshile Gorky: 1904 –1948’ at Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice, through September 22, 2019 in conjunction with the Venice Biennale.—Parker Field