Reverse not seen
Gorky and the artist Jacob Kainen (1909–2001), an American-born son of Russian parents, were good friends. Kainen's studio was on Fourteenth Street, diagonally across Union Square from Gorky's. For this portrait, which Gorky started in the fall of 1934, Kainen sat about eight times, one session per week so that the most recent application of paint had time to dry. Kainen later described the process: "Each time I returned Gorky would scrape down the dried paint surface with a straight-backed razor and lay on the same colors again. What he wanted was a thick, even paint film, 'smooth like glass,' as he put it."1
The painting shares affinities of style with several portraits by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), particularly in Gorky's desire to create a surface "smooth like glass," and for the angling and disposition of the pose (see also P116). In Kainen's own words, "Gorky sat at his easel under a large low skylight, selected a small canvas, and had me pose seated at a three-quarters angle, leaning my cheek against my left hand. Even then I knew the pose came from Ingres and Cezanne."2
1. Jacob Kainen, "Posing for Gorky: A Memoir of the New York Master," The Washington Post (June 10, 1979): L4.