Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

P003
(Park Street Church, Boston)
1924
Oil on canvas board
16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm)
Front, lower right: Gorky / Arshele
Reverse not inscribed
Exhibitions
Museum of Modern Art, New York, Arshile Gorky, 1904–1948, December 19, 1962–February 12, 1963, no. 2, ill. in b/w, p. 10, as "Park Street Church, Boston." Traveled to: Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C, March 12–April 14, 1963.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April 24–July 19, 1981, no. 1, ill. in b/w, p. 62, as "Park Street Church, Boston." Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 11–November 8, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 1, ill. in color, p. 160, as "Park Street Church, Boston." Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010. (Gale 2010).; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010.
Literature
Ashton, Dore. "New York." Das Kunstwerk (Stuttgart, Germany) 16, no. 10 (April 1963), discussed p. 31.
Levy, Julien. Arshile Gorky. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1966. Monograph, pl. 36, ill. in b/w, p. 60, as "Park Street Church, Boston," dated c. 1925.
Cullinan, Helen. "The First and Last of Arshile Gorky." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), July 5, 1981, discussed, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Jordan, Jim M. "Gorky at the Guggenheim." Art Journal (New York) 41, no. 3 (Fall 1981), discussed p. 261, as "Park Street Church."
Larson, Kay. "The Man Who Would Be Best." New York 14 (May 11, 1981), discussed p. 73.
Waldman, Diane. "Arshile Gorky: Poet in Paint." In Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in collaboration with The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1981. Exhibition catalogue, discussed p. 16.
Millard, Charles W. "Arshile Gorky." The Hudson Review (New York) 35 (Spring 1982), discussed p. 105.
Jordan, Jim M. "The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: New Discoveries, New Sources, and Chronology." In The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue, by Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater. New York and London: New York University Press, 1982, discussed p. 18, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Jordan, Jim M. "Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings." In The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue, by Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater. New York and London: New York University Press, 1982, no. 3, ill. in b/w, pp. 127–28, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Nercessian, Nora N. "The Defeat of Arshile Gorky." Armenian Review (Watertown, MA) 36, no. 1 (Spring 1983), discussed p. 91, as "Park Street Church in Boston."
Lader, Melvin P. Arshile Gorky. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. Monograph, fig. 8, ill. in color, p. 17, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Rand, Harry. "Gorky In Virginia." Arts in Virginia 26, no. 1 (1986), fig. 1, ill. in b/w, p. 4, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Spender, Matthew. From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1999, ill. in b/w, p. 63, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Herrera, Hayden. Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003, fig. 62, ill. in b/w, as "Park Street Church."
Fagan, Sarah E. "Strange, Quick and Beautiful: A Look at the Grand Unveiling of the Mina Boehm Metzger Collection; Drawings and Paintings by Arshile Gorky." Artscope (Quincy, MA) 4 (September–October 2009), ill. in color, p. 12, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Matttison, Robert S. Arshile Gorky: Works and Writings. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafica, 2009. Monograph, ill. in color, p. 26, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Alberro, Alexander. "The Apprenticeship of Arshile Gorky: On Arshile Gorky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art." Texte zur Kunst (Cologne) 77 (March 2010), discussed pp. 146, 208, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Spender, Matthew, ed. Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents. Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018, ill. in color, p. 34, as "Park Street Church, Boston."
Devaney, Edith, and Gabriella Belli. "Chronology / Cronologia." In Arshile Gorky: 1904–1948. Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2019. Exhibition catalogue, ill. in color, p. 217, as "Park Street Church, Boston / Chiesa di Park Street, Boston."
Notes
The reverse inscription information is known from a photograph provided by the Whistler House Museum of Art, Lowell, Massachusetts.
On the back of the canvas board is a label from Wadsworth, Howland & Co., a well-known artists' supplies store in Boston.

Commentary

This is the earliest known work that bears a close variant of what would become Gorky’s newly invented pseudonym. Gorky's given name was Vosdanig “Manoug” Adoian but he rejected this in favor of a name that sounded less Armenian, as was typical of many Armenian immigrants at the time. He settled on Arshile Gorky around 1932 after having experimented with several spelling variations, including “Archele,” “Archel,” and “Gorki,” or, as it is here, “Arshele." He admired Maxim Gorky (b. Alexei Maximovich Peshkov; 1868–1936), a feeling shared by many of his countrymen because of the Russian-born writer’s support for the plight of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire.1 Many falsely believed there to be a relation between the two men—a misunderstanding that Gorky often did not correct. One of the earliest known instances where this affiliation appears in print is a September 1926 announcement of Gorky's faculty appointment to the Grand Central School of Art, in which the reporter identifies him as a cousin of the writer's.2 According to Helen Sandow (1906–2000), a close friend, when she once asked Gorky if the putative cousinship were true, he retorted, "'of course not. But I'm sick and tired of their asking me if I was, so I just say Yes.'"3 Although Gorky wasn't proficient in the language, his pseudonym—across its various spellings—is most often translated from Russian, with "Gorky" and its variants meaning "bitter." The origins of his first name, “Arshile,” are less clear. Among the theories are a reference to Archie Gunn—an American name inspired by Western movies—or a reference to “Achilles” from Greek mythology. It is also worth noting that “Arshile” shares the familiar prefix “Ar” used in many traditional Armenian names.

The first owner of the painting was Katherine O'Donnell Murphy (c. 1884–1976) who purchased it directly from Gorky in the spring of 1924 while both were students at the New School of Design in Boston (later called the New England School of Design). In a letter of 1951, she recalled: "During the noon recesses, Gorky used to sketch outdoors and one dull day, Gorky painted a small panel of the Park Street Church. A parishioner passing by offered Gorky five dollars for the painting if he would make his figures more distinct and less like peasants. Naturally Gorky was furious and returned to the school enraged but sorry that he had not sold the little oil for $5.00 and offering it at that price. So I gave him $10.00 for the little oil and $10.00 was quite a sum to me then."4

1. After World War I, Maxim Gorky worked for the Armenian Relief Organization and in 1916 he coedited an anthology of Armenian poetry translated into Russian. 

2. "Fetish of Antique Stifles Art Here, Says Gorky Kin," New York Evening Post (September 15, 1926): 17.

3. "Helen Sandow: Gorky in the Twenties and Thirties," November 22, 1993, in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 40; Helen Sandow, interview with Matthew Spender, November 22, 1993, transcript, Matthew Spender Papers, AGF Archives.

4. Letter from Katherine O'Donnell Murphy, to Ethel Schwabacher, July 29, 1951, Arshile Gorky Research Collection (1936–1993), Francis Mulhall Achilles Library, Archives, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Related Work

Theme: Landscape