Verso not seen
The drawing is the culmination of several earlier and smaller studies, completed between 1946 and 1947 (D1483, D1484, and D1485), and is the largest known work on paper by Gorky.
On July 5, 1947, Gorky wrote to his wife Agnes "Mougouch" (1913–1921), triumphantly sharing news of its completion: "I just this afternoon finish [sic] a very large drawing [D1486]. ('from [Ethel and Wolfgang] schwabacher[s'] drawing [D1484]') it is very large one about 80 x 102 inches, and it looks very good."1
During the period the monumental drawing was created, Gorky worked alone in his studio at 36 Union Square, while Mougouch, Maro (b. 1943), and Natasha (b. 1945), spent the hot summer months in Castine, Maine. In a letter to Mougouch, sent soon after the family's departure in early June, the Gorkys' close friend, Jeanne Reynal (1903–1989), reported on Gorky "working and very well. . . . The drawings are beautiful and I think he is finding great satisfaction in their magnitude [D1486; likely also D1337, D1403, and D1492]. He does not show them to anyone and so I feel honored that I have seen them."2 As Gorky’s ensuing letter to Mougouch conveys, he was determined to resolve Summation before turning his attention to painting and his next solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery, scheduled for February 1948: "I am to begin to paint coming monday. I am sorry my darling for not writing to you sooner. as you see I had to finish that drawing."3
Julien Levy (1906–1981), of the eponymous gallery, and the drawing's first owner, remembered Summation as one of "4 extraordinary and large drawings" that he received directly from Gorky before the artist’s death in July 1948 (see also D1337, D1059, and D1492).4 In a letter dated March 9, 1949, Levy explained, "the category for these [drawings] was never determined. . . . I sold another (mural size) [D1486] after Gorky's death and turned over the proceeds without any commission to Mrs. Gorky ($1,000)."5 When the drawing came into Leo Castelli's (1907–1999) possession, it was given the title Summation, under which appellation it was first shown in 1955 and has been known since. Many years later, Castelli recalled acquiring the drawing from Levy "under amusing circumstances."6 In his words, it "wasn't framed yet, just lying on the floor," yet he "fell in love with it," purchasing it for $900 across monthly installments of one hundred dollars.7
According to Ethel Schwabacher (1903–1984), Gorky once said of the summative drawing, "This is a world."8
1. Of the six large-scale drawings that were completed during this period (D1486, D1059, D1284, D1337, D1403, and D1492), the measurements of D1486 match those noted by Gorky. Letter from Arshile Gorky to Mougouch Gorky, Saturday [July 5, 1947], in Matthew Spender, ed., Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents (Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018), 430.
2. Given the period in question, the other drawings Reynal references likely include: Drawing, Agony (D1337); Gray Drawing (Pastoral) (D1403); and The Betrothal (D1492). Letter from Jeanne Reynal to Mougouch Gorky, June 26, 1947, in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 425.
3. Letter from Arshile Gorky to Mougouch Gorky, Saturday [July 5, 1947], in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 430.
4. Letter from Julien Levy to William (Lee) Pfister, March 9, 1949, Julien Levy Gallery records, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Library and Archives.
6. Annie Cohen-Solal, Leo & His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli, trans. Mark Polizzotti with the author (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 178.
7. In a 1991 interview, Mougouch Gorky separately remembers that the drawing was not titled by Gorky; see: Agnes Gorky Fielding, interview by Matthew Spender, March 7, 1992, transcript, p. 10, Matthew Spender Papers, AGF Archives. Leo Castelli, interview by Annie Cohen-Solal, November 5, 1995, as quoted in Cohen-Solal, Leo & His Circle, 178.
8. Arshile Gorky, as quoted in Ethel K. Schwabacher, Arshile Gorky (New York: Macmillan Company for the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1957), 120.