c. 1902–4: The artist is born in the village of Khorkom, in the Armenian and Kurdish province of Van, on the eastern border of the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey).His birth name is Vosdanig Adoian, which he will later change to Arshile Gorky.
1906, July: Setrag Adoian (c. 1871–1948), Gorky’s father, a trader, leaves Khorkom and immigrates to the U.S., arriving in New York in late December and settling in Providence, Rhode Island.
1906, September 27: Gorky’s younger sister, Vartoosh Adoian (d. 1991), is born in Khorkom.
c. 1908: Gorky’s paternal grandfather, Manouk Adoian dies. According to Armenian tradition, Gorky is given his grandfather’s name, Manouk (or Manoug), which means “child” or “infant.”
1908, March–April: Ottoman massacre of Armenians in Van; by 1909, 30,000 have been killed.
1909: Gorky attends a one-room school attached to the church of Saint Vardan in Khorkom. Among other subjects, he takes a drawing class which he quickly finds is his favorite.
1910, August: Death of Hamaspiur Der Marderosian, Gorky’s maternal grandmother. He attends her funeral.
1910, September: Shushan Der Marderosian Adoian (1880–1919), Gorky’s mother, moves to Van City with her three children, including Gorky’s older half-sister Satenig (1900–1989). By November, the children attend the American Mission School where they learn English.
c. 1912: Gorky and his mother pose for a photograph to send to Setrag in the U.S. This will later serve as the source for the two paintings known as The Artist and His Mother (P114 and P115).
1914, August 1: World War I begins when Germany declares war on Russia and France. The Ottoman-Turkish government, which will shortly enter the war on the German side, intensifies its persecution of the Armenian population. Armenians are conscripted into the army and many are murdered. By November, martial law is declared in Van and Russia declares war on the Ottoman Empire.
1915, April: Looting, rape, mass arrests, imprisonment, and executions of Armenians occur throughout the Ottoman Empire. An Armenian resistance begins in Van. The Adoian family takes refuge at the American mission along with thousands of other Armenians. In May, a Russian cavalry arrives in Van, helping liberate the city.
1915, June 15: The family leaves Van in a forced deportation march across rugged terrain to Vagharshapat (Echmiadzin). This takes 10 days. They stay in Vagharshapat for several weeks. By early August, they arrive in Yerevan, having traveled approximately 100 miles in all. Over the course of this year, between 1.2 and 1.8 million Armenians perish after being forced into the Mesopotamian Desert.
1916, October 9: Setrag sends money for his family to immigrate to the U.S. but the funds only cover the cost of one ticket. Satenig, the eldest child, departs Yerevan, leaving Gorky to assume the role of head of the family.
1918, August: The threat of civil war causes the Adoians to flee Yerevan. Traveling by foot, they are forced to stop in the village of Shahab, only eight miles away, because Shushan becomes too weak to continue.
1918, December: Gorky, Vartoosh, and Shushan return to Yerevan where they find shelter in an abandoned room with a partial roof. War between the First Republic of Armenia (also known as the Democratic Republic of Armenia) and the Democratic Republic of Georgia, combined with a brutally cold winter, result in the death of numerous Armenians who succumb to famine and disease.
1919, March 19/20: Among the 200,000 who die is Shushan, Gorky’s mother, who is only 39 years old.
1919, May: Gorky and Vartoosh travel by train to Tiflis (present-day Tbilisi, Georgia) and arrive in the port city of Batumi, Georgia, in July. The following month they sail to Istanbul. There, a doctor, Vergine Kelekian, and her husband, Setrag, assist them with lodging, and their son, Hambartzum, employed by a shipping company, eventually helps them secure tickets to the U.S.
1920, January 25: Gorky and Vartoosh travel by ship via Athens to Patras, Greece, where they stay for fifteen days.
1920, February 9: In Patras, they board the Italian liner S.S. Presidente Wilson, stopping en route for one day in Naples, Italy, before continuing to the U.S.
1920, February 26: Gorky and Vartoosh arrive at Ellis Island, New York.The ship manifest of alien passengers submitted to the U.S. Immigration Officer at Port of Arrival includes “Manouk Adoian, age 17, student.” After three days of detainment, the siblings are officially admitted to the U.S. They are met by their half-brother, Hagop Adoian (1888–1962), their half-sister, Akabi Prudian-Adoian Amerian (1896–1971), and her husband, Muggerdich Amerian (1883–1963). The Amerians take Gorky and Vartoosh to their home at 86 Dexter Avenue in Watertown, Massachusetts.
1920–21: For a short period in 1921, Gorky works at the Hood Rubber Company in Watertown alongside Satenig. After only two months, he is dismissed for regularly drawing on company property, including the wooden shoe frames that he is tasked with transporting.Gorky moves to Providence, where he stays with his father and Hagop, and for a brief time attends Technical High School.
1922, September: After returning to Watertown, he enrolls in a class at the Scott Carbee School of Art in Boston. His refusal to paint in Carbee’s style, however, leads the instructor to ask him not to return. Gorky then enrolls in night classes at the New School of Design (formerly the New School of Design and Illustration) at 248 Boylston Street in Boston. There he studies drawing and painting. An instructor, Ethel Cooke, later recalls that Gorky arrived “very well equipped” and that his drawings were “as good as any of [John Singer] Sergeant’s [sic] even when he was 18.”
1922–23: While attending art school, Gorky frequents Boston’s museums. He works as a dishwasher at a restaurant and makes money drawing one-minute pictures of presidents between acts at the Majestic Theatre. He is most likely living on his own during this time.
1924: Gorky becomes an assistant instructor of a life-drawing class at the New School of Design. This is his first teaching position. One day, during noon recess, he paints (Park Street Church, Boston; P003), signing it “Gorky, Arshele,” the earliest known example of his new pseudonym. He experiments with several spelling variations, including "Archele," "Archel" and "Gorki," before finally settling on Arshile Gorky around 1932.
1924: Late in the year, Gorky moves to New York after accepting a teaching position with the New School of Design’s recently-opened branch at 1680 Broadway. According to Mark Rothko, one of his students, Gorky brings in his copies of paintings by Frans Hals and Adolphe Monticelli.When he first arrives in the city, Gorky stays with a friend, Badrik [Patrick] Selian (dates unknown), who arrived several years earlier.
1925, January 9: Gorky is admitted to the National Academy of Design where he enrolls in a life-drawing class. He leaves after only one month.
1925, October: He enrolls in classes at the Grand Central School of Art located in Grand Central Terminal at 42nd Street.
1926, September: Gorky becomes a full-time member of the faculty in the School of Painting and Drawing at the Grand Central School of Art, a position he holds for five years. An article covering his faculty appointment is published in the New York Evening Post, wherein he is described as a cousin of Maxim Gorky.
1926, November: In what is likely his first exhibition, the Grand Central faculty show, Gorky shows two paintings: a portrait and a still life. Gorky also publishes a poem, “Thirst,” in the Grand Central School of Art Quarterly. The poem’s wording was taken from a work by the Armenian poet Siamanto (Atom Yarjanian), who was killed during the Armenian Genocide.
1926: Shortly after Frederick Kiesler (1890–1965), the Viennese architect and designer, arrives in New York, Gorky invites him to lecture at the Grand Central School of Art.Around this time, Gorky begins painting his first version of The Artist and His Mother (P115), a canvas he would spend a decade reworking.
c. 1926: Gorky moves to a studio on Sixth Avenue at Fifty-seventh Street where he lives with Stergis M. Stergis (1897–1987), a Greek-born student at Grand Central. At this time Gorky meets Nathan I. Bijur (1875–1969), another art student at Grand Central who works as a leaf tobacco merchant but would have preferred to earn his living as a painter. Bijur comes to Gorky’s studio for painting lessons on Saturday mornings. In 1929, Bijur’s daughter, Jean (1912–1995), joins her father for these Saturday morning sessions.
1928: Gorky relocates to a studio at 47A Washington Square South at Sullivan Street. This is three blocks west of the Gallery of Living Art, which is housed in a building owned by New York University and run by the modern art collector, A. E. Gallatin (1881–1952). The Gallery opened at 100 Washington Square East in December 1927 and displays paintings from Gallatin’s collection by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Giorgio de Chirico. Gorky regularly visits to study the works and is directly inspired by de Chirico’s The Fatal Temple (1914). He would soon incorporate elements of this painting into his own work. Gorky meets John Graham (1886–1961), a Russian-born artist who had changed his name from Ivan Dombrowsky. He meets Ethel Kremer (m. Schwabacher; 1903–1984), his future biographer and a committed patron, alongside her husband, Wolfgang Schwabacher (c. 1918–1951). The artist Hans Burkhardt (1904–1994) joins one of his classes at Grand Central. By the following year, Burkhardt takes private lessons from Gorky.
1929: In what is a particularly social year, Gorky meets Willem de Kooning (1904–1997) in the studio of the Ukranian-born artist, Misha Reznikoff (1905–1971), a friend from Providence. He begins a three-year affair with Sirun Mussikian (1894–?), an artist’s model who is also from Van. Through Graham, Gorky meets the American painter, Stuart Davis (1892–1964). A close friendship forms between Davis, Graham, and Gorky, by 1931, de Kooning affectionately dubs them the “Three Musketeers.”Gorky also meets Sidney Janis (then Janowitz; 1896–1989), becoming his unofficial art advisor. The two travel to the Fifty-seventh Street galleries in Janis’s red convertible.
1929, October 11: Erhard Weyhe (1883–1972), who owns a gallery located at 794 Lexington Avenue with an adjoining art bookstore that Gorky frequents, sells an oil on canvas still life (P044) to John Nicholas Brown II (1900–1979) of Providence. This is the earliest recorded sale of a Gorky work to someone who is neither a pupil nor a close friend.
1930: Gorky moves to a larger studio at 36 Union Square East which has its entrance on Sixteenth Street. The art dealer, J. B. Neumann (1887–1961), who directs the New Art Circle gallery in New York, becomes Gorky’s dealer. The nature of their relationship is unclear; he is credited as the lender of several works to museum exhibitions between 1930 and 1937 but does not organize any exhibitions of the artist’s work. By 1931, Gorky sends artwork to exhibitions at the Downtown Gallery, run by Edith Halpert (1900–1970), possibly after an introduction by Stuart Davis who is represented by the gallery. From the Downtown Gallery, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (Mrs. John D. Rockefeller; 1874–1948) acquires Fruit (P055) on April 21, 1931 for $250. Through Graham, Gorky meets the young American artist, David Smith (1906–1965).
1931: Gorky loses his teaching position at the Grand Central School of Art due to decreased enrollment. He begins what will be his largest series, the so-called “Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia,” and makes variations on this theme through the mid-1930s, creating over one hundred drawings and two paintings: Organization, c. 1933–4 (P119) and Enigma, c. 1933–4 (P120). The series will also inform the artist’s 1934 mural composition for the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP; 1933–April 1934). Corinne “Michael” West, Gorky’s love interest at the time, later remembers admiring the ink drawings that “lined the walls [of Gorky’s studio] and were hung low so that he could study them.”
1931, September: Gorky evaluates Stuart Davis’s work in an essay he writes for the magazine, Creative Art.
1932, May 10: Vartoosh and her husband, Moorad Mooradian (1896–1963), move to Soviet Armenia. He hopes to find work there as an engineer. They return to the U.S. permanently two and a half years later.
1932, November: At Romany Marie’s, a Greenwich Village restaurant popular with artists, Gorky meets Dorothy C. Miller (1904–2003) and Holger Cahill (1887–1960). To support him, the couple begins taking private lessons. Each will also later play a central role in furthering his career: Miller as a curator at MoMA and Cahill as the head of the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration.
1932–33, winter: Julien Levy (1906–1981), who runs an eponymous New York gallery, agrees to see Gorky’s drawings at John Graham’s suggestion. Gorky explains: “I was with [sic] Cézanne for a long time . . . and now naturally I am with [sic] Picasso.” Levy responds that he will show his work “someday, when you are with [sic] Gorky.”
1933, December 20: The PWAP is established by Harry L. Hopkins (1890–1946), becoming part of the Civil Works Administration Program. Gorky applies and is accepted the same day. He will receive a weekly salary of $37.38 for 18 weeks.
1933, December 22: Gorky files a Subject Card with the PWAP outlining the following proposal: “My subject matter is directional . . . In the middle of my picture stands a column which symbolizes the determination of the American nation . . . My intention is to create objectivity of the articles which I have detached from their habitual surroundings to be able to give them heightened realism.”The drawings from the “Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia” series form the basis for this composition.
1934: Sidney Janis’s brother, M. Martin Janis (1892–1969) and his wife, Etta (1895–1980), meet Gorky and buy five works from the artist.
1934, January 17: Gorky submits a proposal to the PWAP for a mural that he titles 1934. In his application, he notes that his mural will be appropriate for installation in the “Port of New York Authority, 15 St & 8th Ave," the "entrance to [the] museum of peaceful Arts," the "News Building 42 East 2 Ave in mashinery [sic] dept,” or in "Technical Universities," such as an Engineering School. Gorky reports that at the time of his application, the mural study is half-finished and will be completed by February 15, 1934.
1934, February 2–15: Gorky has his first solo exhibition at the Mellon Galleries, 27 South 18th Street, in Philadelphia. This is organized by the gallery’s director, C. Philip Boyer (1892–1981), likely at the suggestion of Gorky’s early patron, the Philadelphia-based collector Bernard Davis (1893–1973). Frederick Kiesler contributes the catalogue’s introduction. The show includes thirty-seven paintings.In conjunction with the exhibition, on February 5th, Gorky gives a lecture at the gallery entitled “Plastic Forms of Modern Painting.”
1934 February: A fire in Akabi Amerian’s home in Watertown destroys over a dozen early paintings by Gorky.
1934, February 13: In a letter to Gorky, Lloyd Goodrich (1897–1987) writes, “We have received you [sic] work, and would like to go ahead with a section of it in color. We would suggest the right-hand section.”Three days later Gorky begins work on a detail of the mural, 1934, in oil, measuring 25 x 40 inches.
1934, February 28–March 31: In the First Municipal Art Exhibition held at Forum Gallery in New York, Gorky is represented by three works: one painting, one ink drawing, and one lithograph.At the opening on February 28th, Gorky meets Marny George (1913–1951), a painter and professional ice skater, whom he notices admiring his painting Composition No. 4, 1931 (not identified). She describes it as a “powerful abstraction in violent and magnificent color.”
1934, March 27: Gorky and Marny George are married, weeks after they first meet. Though they separate soon after, their divorce is not official until February 13, 1936. About their marriage, she later writes: “It seems the very moment we were married the battle began . . . We loved and hated with equal violence.”
1934, April 29: Gorky is dropped from the PWAP, possibly because his designs are considered too abstract by the committee administrators, Juliana Force (1876–1948) and Lloyd Goodrich.
1934, June: The PWAP is discontinued.
1934, October 27: In an event organized by the Artists Committee of Action, Gorky marches on City Hall with around 300 other artists, demanding that they have a place to exhibit their work. With the artist, George McNeil (1908–1995), Gorky constructs a float: a tower of painted cardboard supported by a wooden framework, reminiscent of Picasso’s Synthetic Cubist style.
1934, December 25: Vartoosh and Moorad return from Soviet Armenia. Although Moorad is a U.S. citizen, Vartoosh is not. Her return is aided by Gorky, who arranges their passage via a refugee association and his friend and later patron, Katharine Ordway (1899–1979). They stay in Watertown with Akabi, where, in March 1935, their son Karlen is born (d. 1991).
1935, February 12–March 22: Gorky is included in Abstract Painting in America, his first exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is represented by four paintings, two of which have been identified with certainty: Composition No. 1, c. 1928–29 (P067) and Composition No. 3, c. 1929–30 (P078). The catalogue includes an introduction by Stuart Davis and an illustration of Composition No. 1.
1935, March: Gorky meets Corinne Michelle “Michael” West (1908–1991) through Lorenzo Santillo whom he had recently taken in as a lodger at 36 Union Square. West is a student at the art school run by Hans Hofmann (1880–1966) where Santillo is her class monitor. Describing her first visit to his studio, she writes: “There were notables there, it seemed private and chi chi to me at the time — Sydney [sic] Janis and his wife [Harriet Janis; 1898–1963], Ethel Schwabacher, the Metzgers, the Muschenheims — etc. All wealthy people who bought his paintings.”Gorky and West begin an affair that lasts until she moves to Rochester, New York, around June 1936.
1935, May 6: The Works Progress Administration (WPA; 1935–April 1943) is founded. At its peak in 1939, the organization will employ close to 3 million Americans. When it dissolves in 1943, it will have offered support to nearly one-fourth of all families in the nation.
1935, July: Gorky applies to the Emergency Relief Bureau for work and housing relief and begins receiving $24 a month. His status with the Bureau qualifies him for a position with the Federal Art Project (FAP) of the WPA, which is established one month later under the directorship of his friend, Holger Cahill.
1935, August 1: Gorky is assigned to the Mural Division of the WPA/FAP, earning an initial monthly salary of $103.40.He is to create sketches for an aviation-themed mural, measuring approximately 720 square feet, in the Administration Building at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Gorky’s mural design incorporates photographs of airplanes and airports supplied by the photographer, Wyatt Davis (1906–1984), Stuart Davis’s brother.
1935, September: Vartoosh, Moorad, and Karlen arrive in New York and stay with Gorky for just over a year. Through the assistance of Bernard Davis, Gorky finds Moorad a job in Chicago. Vartoosh, Moorad, and Karlen permanently move to Chicago in November 1936.
1935, October 1–20: Gorky has his first and only solo exhibition at Boyer Galleries in Philadelphia, which is directed by C. Philip Boyer (1892–1981), formerly of the Mellon Galleries. Michael West borrows her father’s car and drives Gorky, Lorenzo Santillo, and an unidentified woman named Geraldine to see the show, which is made up exclusively of drawings.Reviewing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, C.H. Bonte writes: "Following what seems to be a trend of the times toward abstraction, [the] array consists almost entirely of productions of this sort. . . . Being without titles, it is part of the enjoyment in studying these pictures to attempt to apply nomenclature and to discover how interpretations may differ. . . . The anatomical and mechanistic seem to prevail and some who have made a close study of the drawings even claim to see the development of a design from one to another of the pictures.” On the afternoon of October 15th, Gorky gives a talk on “Abstract Paintings” at the gallery.
1935, October 7–28: Guild Art Gallery, founded by artists Anna Walinska (1906–1997) and Margaret Lefranc (1907–1998), hosts its inaugural exhibition at 37 West Fifty-seventh Street in New York. Although Gorky’s name is not printed on the announcement card, a review in the New York Times identifies him among those represented, singling out “his handsome abstract decoration (in its soft, indeterminate, romantic treatment...) [which] may be said to dominate the show.”
1935, November 12: Gorky signs a three-year contract with Guild Art Gallery.
1935, December 27: Inaugural exhibition of the Federal Art Project Gallery, 7 East Thirty-eighth Street. Titled Murals for Public Buildings, the show includes work by twenty-seven project artists. Gorky contributes an example of his collaboration with Wyatt Davis for Floyd Bennett. He is photographed speaking with Mayor Fiorella H. La Guardia (1882–1947) who attends the opening and, of Gorky’s design, later comments: “I am a conservative in my art, as I am a progressive in my politics. . . . That’s why perhaps I cannot understand it.”
1935, December 16–January 5, 1936: Guild Art Gallery organizes Gorky’s first solo show in New York, an exhibition of abstract drawings, largely featuring the "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia" series.
1936, January: Gorky’s project for Floyd Bennett is reassigned to the Administration Building at Newark Airport, New Jersey. He is to create a ten-panel mural cycle, in oil on canvas, measuring approximately 1,530 square feet. Wyatt Davis’s photographs are no longer incorporated into the designs. The panels are painted in the seventh-floor workshop of the Federal Art Project’s headquarters at 6 East 39th Street. Only two panels (P141v and P141w) remain today.
1936, March 11: Gorky delivers a lecture on Social Realism at the Artists Union (1933–May 1942), though he is not an official member of this group. In his talk he positions the movement as “poor art for poor people,” which displeases his audience given most Union members are Social Realists.
1936, May 7: Gorky signs a declaration of intent to become a U.S. citizen.
1936, Summer/Fall: Gorky begins an affair with the painter Mercedes Carles (m. Matter; 1913–2001), daughter of the Philadelphia-based painter Arthur B. Carles (1882–1952). She is also employed by the WPA/FAP’s Mural Division. The two paint together in Gorky’s studio.
1936, Fall: The American Abstract Artists group is established. Among its founding members is Burgoyne Diller (1906–1965), director of the FAP's Mural Division in New York (1935–1940). Gorky attends several meetings but never formally joins the organization.
1936, September 14–October 12: The exhibition, New Horizons in American Art, opens at MoMA, introducing Gorky’s Newark Airport murals to the public. The project’s title is listed as Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations. Alfred H. Barr Jr. (1902–1981), and Holger Cahill contribute essays to the catalogue. On display are three components: one completed panel, oil on canvas, 79 x 125 inches; a small-scale model of the interior and its mural designs; and photographs of the largest panels.
1936, November 10–December 10: The Third Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum includes Gorky’s painting, Organization, 1933–36 (P146).Going forward, he is represented regularly in this annual exhibition.
1936, December 11: At the request of the WPA/FAP’s Washington Office, Gorky submits a written interpretation of his Newark Airport murals. In addition to a formal analysis of his panels, Gorky’s text discusses the educational benefits of mural painting: “Since many workers, school children, or patients in hospitals (as the case may be, depending on the type of institution) have little or no opportunity to visit museums, mural painting could and would open up new vistas to their neglected knowledge of a far too-little popularized Art.” This was originally intended to be one of several texts published in a WPA-sponsored illustrated report.
1936, December 18: Frederick Kiesler’s “Murals Without Walls: Relating to Gorky’s Newark Project,” is published in Art Front, the first magazine article on Gorky.
1937, May 12: Gorky delivers a lecture on camouflage at the American Federation of Arts in Washington, D.C.
1937, June 9: Gorky’s murals at Newark Airport are unveiled. Gerard Sullivan, reporting for the Newark Ledger, captures the public’s initially skeptical reactions, including the suggested likeness to “[a] hangover after an Atlantic City convention!”Despite the negative reception, the murals are officially accepted by the Newark Art Commission on June 24th.
1937, August: Gorky submits mural proposals for the Aviation and Marine Transportation buildings at the 1939 New York World’s Fair held in Flushing Meadows—Corona Park, Queens. His proposal is accepted for the Aviation Building, which is designed by his friend, the architect William Lescaze (1896–1969), who also helps to secure the commission. Lyonel Feininger’s (1871–1956) designs are selected for the Marine Transportation Building.
1937, c. Summer: Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) is hired to redesign the nightclub in the basement of the American Music Hall, a progressive theater owned by the brothers Jerrold (1909–1948) and Joseph Krimsky (1905–1979), located in what had been Trinity Baptist Church at 141 East Fifty-fifth Street. Noguchi enlists Gorky, Reznikoff, Conrad Basquez (dates unknown), and Robert Cronbach (1908–2001) to design and execute murals, which are painted directly onto the walls.The opening of this reimagined space, known as “Chez Firehouse,” coincides with the debut of the theatrical production, The Fireman’s Flame, a spirited, three-act supper show that opens in the upstairs theater on October 9, 1937, and runs through the following April. Of the murals, one reviewer remarks, “the paintings are in the prevailing school of Miró or of Picasso;” while, of the atmosphere, another remarks, “it is a slightly mad place, decidedly informal, and lots of fun if you are in the right mood. . . . During the dinner hour there is no floor show, but there is music for dancing.”
1937, November 10–December 12: The Whitney Museum’s Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting includes Gorky’s Painting, 1936–37 (P173).At the exhibition’s close, the museum acquires the work, making it the artist’s first painting to enter a museum collection.
1938, c. February: Gorky begins a relationship with Leonore Gallet (1911–2005), an artist and violinist with the New York Symphony Orchestra. Their romance lasts until the spring of 1939.
1938, May: The Whitney loans Gorky’s Painting (P173) to the exhibition, Trois Siècles d’Art Américain (Three Centuries of American Art), a large survey organized by MoMA and installed at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris.James Johnson Sweeney reviews the exhibition and reproduces Painting (P173) in Cahiers d’Art. In a letter to Vartoosh, Gorky writes, “the painting was published in the best magazine on art in Paris and in the world.”
1939, January 16: Gorky leaves the FAP in order to complete his mural for the Aviation Building at the New York World’s Fair. He is also pressured to leave the WPA/FAP because he is not a U.S. citizen.
1939, January 18: Gorky petitions for naturalization with Harriet and Sidney Janis signing his application as witnesses.
1939, April 30: Unveiling of Gorky’s mural for the New York World’s Fair, an oil on canvas titled Man’s Conquest of the Air (P222). After the Fair closed on October 27, 1940, the Aviation Building is demolished. Gorky’s murals are presumed destroyed.
1939, May 5: Picasso’s Guernica is shown for the first time in the U.S. at the Valentine Gallery in New York (closes May 27, 1939). Sidney Janis directs the committee organizing the exhibition, which is presented by the American Artists' Congress (AAC; 1936–May 1942) and benefits the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign. They invite Gorky to lecture at the gallery. The painter Dorothea Tanning (1910–2012), who attends his lecture, writes, “We listened as a gaunt, intense young man with an enormous Nietzschean moustache, sitting opposite us talked about a picture. . . . he talked about intentions and fury and tenderness and the suffering of the Spanish people. He would point out a strategic line, and follow it into battle as it clashed on the far side of the picture with spiky chaos. He did not, during the entire evening, smile. It was as if he could not.”
1939, May 20: Gorky becomes a U.S. citizen.
1939, June 9: As a citizen, he is reinstated in the WPA/FAP. By August, his salary is reduced to $87.60 per month.
1939, September 1: Hitler’s invasion of Poland marks the start of World War II. As a result, a number of artists begin emigrating to the U.S., including Roberto Matta (1911–2002), whom Gorky meets, possibly in the spring of 1940.
1939, September 3: Gorky and his friend, the African art dealer Gaston de Havenon (1904–1993), visit Noguchi in his studio at 52 West 10th Street. There they also find the artist, De Hirsh Margules (1899–1965), and together they listen to President Roosevelt’s national radio address on Hitler’s recent invasion of Poland. That evening, Gorky, Margules, and Noguchi collaborate on several drawings (D0918, D1593, and D1598a).
1939, October: Gorky applies for a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, with Cahill, Barr, A. Conger Goodyear (1877–1964), Juliana Force (1876–1948), and William Zorach (1889–1966) as references. Gorky writes of his intention to “attempt to reveal, in new designs, objects and colors, the sources of America’s cultural traditions” and to use the fellowship “to evolve a form of abstract painting in America entirely free from foreign influences.” Despite the impressive group of individuals who recommend him, in the spring of 1940 Gorky learns that his application has been rejected.
1940, March/April: Gorky designs a stained glass window for the Protestant chapel at Rikers Island, but his proposal is rejected.
1940, Fall: Through the architect Louis Allen Abramson (1887–1985), Gorky receives a commission to paint three large-scale murals (now destroyed) at the recently opened nightclub, "Ben Marden's Riviera," in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He begins making sketches in early November and completes the project the following summer. Gorky discusses his artwork for an article published in the New York Sun: “I call these murals non-objective art, but if labels are needed this art may be termed surrealistic.”
1940, November: On his own initiative, Gorky begins teaching a course on camouflage at the Grand Central School of Art. He explains, in a course description written with assistance from his friend Robert Jonas (1907–1997), that this complex technique involves psychology and science and, in addition to color, form and construction.One of his students is the artist and future art dealer, Betty Parsons (1900–1982), who later recalls that he “was witty and brilliant as a camouflage teacher . . . I think Gorky probably knew more about aesthetics than anybody I ever met in my life, then and now.”
1940, December 9: Because of the new rule limiting WPA terms to eighteen months, Gorky is forced to resign. He quickly reapplies and is reinstated on December 17th.
1940: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller gifts the Gorky lithograph in her collection, Mannikin, 1931 (Pr032), to MoMA. This is the first work by the artist to enter MoMA’s permanent collection.
1941, January–February: Gorky attends the lecture series of the Surrealist painter, Gordon Onslow Ford (1912–2003), at the New School for Social Research.
1941, January 16: From Gorky, MoMA acquires the drawing, Objects, 1932 (D0140). In a questionnaire for the museum, he describes the drawing’s subject as “wounded birds, poverty and one whole week of rain.”Around the same time, art collector Bernard Davis gives the museum Argula (P218), the first painting by the artist to enter its permanent collection. About the painting, Gorky writes: “The first word I spoke was "Argula"—it has no meaning. I was then five years old. Thus I called this painting Argula as I was entering a new period closer to my instincts.” Later that year, Wolfgang Schwabacher gifts Painting (P212) to MoMA.
1941, February: Elaine Fried (1918–1989), who will marry Willem de Kooning in 1943, coaxes Gorky to meet the nineteen-year-old Agnes Magruder (1921–2013) at a party. He soon calls her "Mougouch," an Armenian term of endearment. She moves in with him in mid-March and that fall they marry.
1941, July 2: In anticipation of his first solo museum show at the San Francisco Museum of Art, organized by his friend Jeanne Reynal (1903–1983), Gorky resigns from the WPA to drive cross-country with Mougouch and Isamu Noguchi. The trip to California takes just over two weeks.
1941, August 9: Gorky’s exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art opens, displaying eighteen oils, one gouache, and two works on paper. Emilia Hodel of the San Francisco News, writes: “There is an exotic quality, a fluidity of design, spontaneity of movement, surprisingly enough. To paint the ‘common, uncommonly’ is what Gorky wants.”In the San Francisco Chronicle, Alfred Frankenstein notes: “Picasso, Braque, Miró and Mondrian have all been drawn upon, but the synthesis is ultimately Gorky's own, and there is nothing more individual about these pictures than the way in which their creator has transformed Braque's surface textures into a kind of painting in relief."
1941, September 13: Gorky and Mougouch marry in Virginia City, Nevada. The marriage is filed and officially recorded on Monday, September 15th. They honeymoon by the Yuba River in the High Sierras on their return trip to San Francisco, and stop in Chicago to visit Vartoosh and her family on their way back to New York. This will be the last time Gorky and Vartoosh see each other.
1941, October 1: The couple arrives in New York and Gorky immediately paints the final surface of Garden in Sochi (P248). This is included in the Annual Exhibition of Paintings by Artists Under Forty at the Whitney Museum which opens on November 12th. In the accompanying catalogue it is simply titled Painting.
1941, December 28: In a letter to Vartoosh, Gorky writes about the war: “It seems I too shall be called to do camouflage painting. We artists are getting organized so that if called we shall serve as painters and not as soldiers.” The draft board later rates him a 4-F, a rejection from service based on his advanced age. As a result of this, Gorky discontinues his camouflage course at the Grand Central School of Art.
1942, June 26: At the request of Dorothy C. Miller, Gorky composes a free-form poem about his painting Garden in Sochi (P248), in which he describes “an enormous tree” from his childhood—“all bleached under the sun . . . and deprived of leaves”—a “Holy tree,” to which passersby regularly tied torn-off strips of their clothing.He further elaborates: “I like Uccello Gruenewald Ingres [sic] the drawings and sketches for paintings of Seurat and that man Pablo Picasso . . . the wheatfields the plough the apricots the shape of apricots those flirts of the sun.”
1942, July 1: MoMA acquires Garden in Sochi (P248).The same day, the exhibition New Rugs by American Artists opens at the museum (closes January 24, 1943). One of the ten rugs on display, Bull in the Sun (Obj001), is designed by Gorky and hand-woven by V’Soske Shops. Due to wartime limitations on wool supplies, only one version of the rug is produced. Writing to Dorothy C. Miller, Gorky remarks: “The design on the rug is the skin of a water buffalo stretched in the sunny wheatfield. If it looks like something else then it is even better!"
1942, August: The Gorkys stay at Saul Schary’s home in New Milford, Connecticut, where they enjoy the outdoors. Of their trip, Mougouch later writes: “we spent 2 [weeks] in the country away from N.Y. and during those two weeks Gorky did some very inspiring drawings from nature which have given him great impetus in his work and something quite new and miraculous is resulting.”About one of these drawings from nature (D0967), Schary would later recall, “we’d take our painting stuff and go out to do a landscape. [Gorky] made a beautiful drawing of my apple orchard, where he sat right among the trees.”
1942, December 9–1943, January 29: Gorky loans My Sister, Ahko (P179) to 20th Century Portraits, an exhibition at MoMA. Although it was painted c. 1937, he backdates the painting to 1917. It is hung next to a portrait by Matisse, and Mougouch later recalls that “Gorky went to the Museum of Modern Art practically everyday to enjoy this beautiful cousinship.”
1943, February: The Gorkys host a dinner party for Fernand Léger (1881–1955) who, at the time, lives on West 40th Street. Mary Burliuk (1888–1968), wife of the painter David Burliuk (1882–1967), later reports that Gorky was “overwhelmed with emotion” to have the well-known French painter in his studio.
1943, March 20: Through the connection of David Burliuk, Joseph H. Hirshhorn (1899–1981), the Lavtian-born financier and art collector, visits Gorky’s studio and purchases seventeen paintings.He will add an additional fourteen works to his collection in the years that follow.
1943, April 5: Birth of Maro Gorky, the artist’s first daughter.
1943, July: The Gorky family spends the summer in Lincoln, Virginia, at Crooked Run Farm, the new home of Mougouch’s parents, Esther (1896–1990) and John H. Magruder II (1889–1963). Gorky is again inspired by his natural surroundings and creates a number of drawings and paintings. Mougouch later recalls: “He’d never seen fireflies before. Never seen milkweed. . . . He enjoyed the noise of running water as he worked, and also the company of the cows. . . . There was any amount of beating the bushes for snakes, and sharpening pencils by the dozen, before he got started.”Separately, she would remember Gorky’s attention to the “change of seasons—the ripening in the fields. . . . He loved the hills and he loved to explore the countryside. . . . He loved the weeds. He liked things that happen, things that stood out. He liked features. . . . Louden [sic] County had a large variety of shapes, hills, rills, trees bending over brooks. All this he observed rather like going to the theater.” In her memory, “this summer was the real release of Gorky,” resulting in over 100 drawings.
1943, late November: The family returns to New York after their extended stay in Virginia.
1944, Early: Isamu Noguchi and Jeanne Reynal introduce Gorky to André Breton (1896–1966), a writer and chief proponent of Surrealism, who escaped from Nazi-occupied Paris to New York in early June 1941. Breton becomes a close friend of the artist, a significant supporter of his work, and an artistic collaborator.
1944, April: Gorky finishes The Liver is the Coxcomb (P281), a monumental canvas measuring over six by eight feet. Sidney Janis includes a reproduction of the painting in his book, Abstract and Surrealist Art in America. Janis cites Gorky’s description of the painting, couched in the Surrealist “automatic” style: “The song of a cardinal, liver, mirrors that have not caught reflection, the aggressively heraldic branches, the saliva of the hungry man whose face is painted with white chalk.”
1944, April: “Five American Painters,” by James Johnson Sweeney, appears in Harper’s Bazaar. Sweeney’s article discusses the work of Milton Avery, Morris Graves, Roberto Matta, Jackson Pollock, and Gorky, about whose recent work he writes: “[it] shows his realization of the value of literally returning to the earth . . . last summer Gorky decided to put out of his mind the galleries of Fifty-seventh Street and the reproductions of Picasso, Leger, and Miro, and ‘look into the grass,’ as he put it . . . the result of this free response to nature was a freshness and personalization of idiom which Gorky had never previously approached, and a new vocabulary of forms . . .”
1944, May 3: The Gorkys return to Crooked Run Farm, this time for nearly six months.
1944, November: From Crooked Run Farm, Mougouch writes to Jeanne Reynal, “Gorky works on as though we were not leaving [for New York] in a few days & yesterday started a huge canvas, almost as big as the one in N.Y. He must feel like a bonfire inside to tackle it.”When Gorky returns to New York, Peggy Guggenheim purchases this “huge” untitled canvas (P285).
1944, December 20: Back in New York, Gorky reaches a formal arrangement with Julien Levy and agrees to give the dealer twelve paintings and thirty drawings per year for a monthly stipend of $175. Levy will also hold an annual solo exhibition at his gallery.
1945, January: The Gorky family moves to the house of the artist David Hare (1917–1992) in Roxbury, Connecticut. This is considerably closer to New York than Lincoln, Virginia, and they stay for the nine months that Hare is away. In anticipation of his spring show at Julien Levy Gallery, Gorky, with Breton’s help, works on finding titles for his latest paintings. While in Roxbury, the Gorkys' close neighbors include artists: Yves Tanguy (1900–1955) and Kay Sage (1898–1963); Peter Blume (1906–1992) and his wife, Ebie (1904–1999); Alexander (1898–1976) and Louisa Calder (1905–1996); and the literary critic, Malcolm Cowley (1898–1989), and his wife, Muriel (1902–1990).
1945, March 6–31: Gorky’s first exhibition at Julien Levy Gallery features nine paintings from the previous year, including The Leaf of the Artichoke is an Owl (P287), One Year The Milkweed (P279), Water of the Flowery Mill (P292), and How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life (P296). In his foreword to the catalogue, Breton describes Gorky as an “eye-spring,” that is, the “the first painter to whom the secret has been completely revealed," engaged in developing an art "entirely new, at the antipodes of those tendencies of today . . . a leap beyond the ordinary and the known to indicate, with an impeccable arrow of light, a real feeling of liberty.”Sadly, because Levy forgot to mail out the exhibition announcements, almost no one attends the opening.
1945, Spring: Breton asks Gorky to create drawings for his forthcoming book of poems, Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares / Jeunes cerisiers garantis contre les lièvres, which is to be published by View Editions, in French, with English translations by Edouard Roditi (1910–1992). The cover is designed by Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968). The first edition of 1,000 copies includes two photo-mechanically reproduced line drawings by the artist (see D1197 and D1557a). Twenty-five of the 1,000 copies are deluxe editions, for which Gorky creates two unique, hand-colored drawings per deluxe edition.
1945, July 4: From Roxbury, Gorky writes to Vartoosh, revealing that this is the first year he is able to paint and not worry about his finances.
1945, August 8: The birth of Gorky’s second daughter who is originally called Yalda and is later renamed Natasha.
1945, September: Upon Hare’s return to Roxbury, the Gorkys relocate to the house of the architect Henry Hebbeln (1915–1962) and his wife, Jean (1914–1956), in nearby Sherman, Connecticut. The Hebbelns convert a barn on the property into a studio for Gorky.
1945, Fall: Gorky travels to New York to deliver a lecture at the Architectural League of New York, an event arranged by Henry Hebbeln. Mougouch later recalls that “Gorky gave the architects hell. He said that modern architecture was terrible: a fly on a wall could wreck a building. Walls, Gorky said, were only made for paintings.”
1946, January 16: Fire destroys Gorky’s studio in Sherman, Connecticut. Over twenty paintings are lost, including two on the theme of The Plow and the Song (D1058), several portraits of Mougouch, and works stylistically similar to They Will Take My Island, 1944 (P288). Also destroyed are a number of drawings and books.
1946, January: Gorky returns to New York where he is offered the use of a private ballroom as a temporary studio. Overlooking Central Park, this elegant space is located on the seventeenth floor of 1200 Fifth Avenue. Gorky works there for several weeks, producing three versions of Charred Beloved (P305, P306, and P371) and the painting Nude (P307), which is based on his imagery for Breton’s book, Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares.
1946, March 1: Gorky is admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital where he undergoes a colostomy for rectal cancer five days later.
1946, March 19: He unexpectedly receives an art fellowship from the New-Land Foundation in New York. Wolfgang Schwabacher, the Foundation’s President, helps to secure the grant which comes with a $1,000 award.
1946, April 9–May 4: His second exhibition at Julien Levy Gallery, Paintings by Arshile Gorky, includes twelve recent oils. The critic, Clement Greenberg (1909–1994), who had published a negative review of Gorky’s debut exhibition with Levy, has a change of heart. This time, he extolls: “Gorky’s present show of eleven oils . . . provides not only reassurance but also some of the best modern painting ever turned out by an American.”
1946, July 17: Gorky and Wifredo Lam (1902–1982) sit for photographer Irving Penn (1917–2009) in NYC.
1946, c. July 20: The Gorky family returns to Crooked Run Farm. During this time, Gorky rents his Union Square studio to the architect, Anne Tredick (1917–2009) for $55 per month.Over the course of an extended summer stay, the artist produces almost 300 drawings. He is unable to paint, however, because the barn that he had previously used as a studio has also been destroyed by fire.
1946, September 10–December 8: The exhibition, Fourteen Americans, opens at MoMA. Curated by Dorothy C. Miller, Gorky is represented by eleven drawings and paintings that fill a room devoted to his work, and include The Artist and His Mother (P115), alongside recent paintings, such as Diary of a Seducer (P300), The Unattainable (P302), and Landscape Table (P299). Among the other artists represented in the show are Noguchi, Hare, Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), Theodore Roszak (1907–1981), Saul Steinberg (1914–1999), and Mark Tobey (1890–1976).
1947, February: Joan Miró (1893–1983) arrives in New York during the month of February to work on his first U.S. commission: a mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio. While he is in New York, the Gorkys host a dinner party in Miró’s honor at 36 Union Square.
1947, February 18–March 8: Gorky’s third exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery consists solely of drawings.
1947, March: With Mougouch and the two children now in his studio, Gorky finds a small, quieter studio space in the Klein building across Sixteenth Street. He works here for approximately four months.
1947, Summer: Mougouch takes the children to Castine, Maine, where they visit her great-aunt, Marion Hosmer (1904–1997), while Gorky stays in New York to work in his studio at Union Square. Other than a short visit to see them in August, he has a productive summer, creating versions of The Betrothal, Agony (P323), and the large drawing, Summation (D1486).
1947, July 7–September 30: André Breton and Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) curate the exhibition, Le Surréalisme en 1947, at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. Gorky is one of the few U.S. artists invited to participate. Two of his paintings from 1944 are displayed: How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life (P296), loaned by the artist, and The Liver is the Coxcomb (P281), loaned by the Hebbelns.
1947, December: Gorky again rents his studio at 36 Union Square to Anne Tredick and the family leases the Hebbelns’ remodeled farmhouse in Sherman, Connecticut, for $100 per month. The farmhouse has become known as the “Glass House” due to the all-encompassing glass panels that replaced the damaged clapboard siding on its south face.Gorky begins showing serious signs of depression. In late December, his father dies in Providence. Neither he nor any of his half-siblings attend the funeral.
1948, January 5: Julien Levy sends Gorky a check for $250 which reflects an agreed-upon raise.
1948, February: The renovation of the Hebbeln farmhouse is featured in an article in Life magazine titled “Old House Made New” which includes photographs of the Gorky family.Disappointed with the piece, Alexander Calder commissions the local reporter, Talcott B. Clapp (1916–1982), to profile Gorky for the Waterbury Sunday Republican. The profile is published on February 29, 1948, and is to be Gorky's last interview.
1948, February 29–March 20: Gorky’s fourth and final lifetime exhibition at Julien Levy Gallery displays fourteen recent paintings, including Soft Night (P350), The Making of the Calendars (P319), and The Limit (P318).Levy is only able to sell one painting from the show, Soft Night, for $700. Reviewing for The Nation, Clement Greenberg writes: “Gorky at last arrives at himself and takes his place . . . among the very few contemporary American painters whose work is of more than national importance.”
1948, June 17: Without a set destination in mind, and telling Gorky only that she will return in a day or two, Mougouch leaves Sherman and spends two days with Matta on the Hudson. A few days following her return, Mougouch leaves for Crooked Run Farm to see Maro and Natasha, who have been staying with their grandmother since May.