Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

Photo: Peter Schälchli
(Blue Figure in Chair)
c. 1934–35
Oil on canvas
48 x 38 in. (121.9 x 96.5 cm)
Front not inscribed
Reverse, on canvas: Arshele Gorky
Private collection
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Arshile Gorky Memorial Exhibition, January 5–February 18, 1951, no. 10, p. 46, as "Blue Figure in Chair," dated c. 1933. Traveled to: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March 4–April 22, 1951; San Francisco Museum of Art, California, May 9–July 9, 1951.
Arts Council of Great Britain, London (organizer), Arshile Gorky, Paintings and Drawings / Arshile Gorky: Schilderijen en Tekeningen, 1965, no. 6, ill. in b/w, as "Figuur in blaux in een stoel / Blue figure in chair," dated c. 1928. Traveled to: Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, May 22–June 27, 1965; Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, July 24–September 5, 1965 (Museum Boymans van Beuingen 1965).
Arts Council of Great Britain, London (organizer), Tate Gallery, Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, April 2–May 2, 1965, no. 7, ill. in b/w, as "Blue Figure in Chair," dated c. 1928.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April 24–July 19, 1981, no. 26, ill. in b/w, p. 83, as "Blue Figure in Chair," dated c. 1931. Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 12–November 6, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Stephen Mazoh & Co. Inc, New York (organizer), Arshile Gorky and the Genesis of Abstraction: Drawings from the Early 1930s, 1994–96. Traveled to: Art Museum, Princeton University, New Jersey, October 29, 1994–January 3, 1995; Milwaukee Art Museum, January 20–April 16, 1995; Stephen Mazoh & Co. Inc, New York, May–June 9, 1995; Baltimore Museum of Art, October 18, 1995–January 21, 1996.
Gagosian Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, 1929–1942, October 27, 1998–January 9, 1999, ill. in color, pp. 22–23; p. 94, as "Blue Figure in Chair," dated c. 1932–34.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Picasso and American Art, September 28, 2006–January 28, 2007, pl. 64, ill. in color, p. 141; ill. in color (detail), p. 112; p. 384, as "Blue Figure in Chair". Traveled to: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, February 25–May 28, 2007; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, June 17–September 9, 2007.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010. (Exhibition catalogue: Taylor 2009a), pl. 20, ill. in color, p. 180; p. 387, as "Blue Figure in a Chair," dated c. 1931. Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010 (Gale 2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010 (Gale 2010).
Ca'Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice, Italy, Arshile Gorky: 1904–1948, May 8–September 22, 2019, ill. in color, p. 95, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
Coates, Robert M. "The Art Galleries." The New Yorker 26, no. 48 (January 20, 1951), discussed p. 60, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
Spender, Matthew. "The Originality of Gorky." Art/World (New York) (May 23 / June 20, 1981), discussed p. 5.
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. 28, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
Karp, Diane. "Arshile Gorky: The Language of Art." Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1982, fig. 53, ill. in b/w, p. 221, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
Millard, Charles W. "Arshile Gorky." The Hudson Review (New York) 35, no. 1 (Spring 1982), discussed, p. 106, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
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 pp. 48, 59, 67, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
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. 130, ill. in b/w, pp. 262–63, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
Herrera, Hayden. Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003, fig. 15, ill. in color, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
Weber, Bruce. "Toward a New American Cubism." In Toward a New American Cubism. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries Inc., 2006. Exhibition catalogue, fig. 31, ill. in b/w, p. 51, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
FitzGerald, Michael. "Picasso and American Art: Chapter Three (1930–1939)." In Picasso and American Art. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006. Exhibition catalogue, discussed p. 140, as "Blue Figure in Chair".
Beredjiklian, Alexandre. Arshile Gorky: sept thèmes majeurs. Suresnes, France: Alphamédian & Johanet; Lisbon: Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, 2007. Monograph, discussed p. 24, as "Figure bleu sur chaise".
Matttison, Robert S. Arshile Gorky: Works and Writings. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafica, 2009. Monograph, ill. in color, p. 33, as "Blue Figure in a Chair".
The inscription on the reverse is known from Jordan and Goldwater. The original stretcher bars are unsigned.


The painting is informed by two paintings by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)—Femme assise, 1926–27 (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto), and Seated Woman, 1927 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)—both of which were illustrated, a page apart, in Cahiers d'Art 2, no. 6 (Paris, 1927), a copy of which was in Gorky's library.1 During Gorky's lifetime, the former painting was shown in the exhibition Since Cézanne at the Valentine Gallery in New York (December 28, 1931–January 16, 1932). While, the latter was exhibited in New York at the Museum of Modern Art in Painting in Paris (1930) and the seminal presentation Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (December 9, 1936–January 17, 1937), as well as at the Demotte Galleries in a show of Picasso's paintings (December 1931). The painting's overall composition is closely referenced in three known drawings (see related work).

Although the title is identified as lifetime in Jim M. Jordan's catalogue raisonné, there is no known extant documentation confirming its origin with the artist and we have therefore designated it as posthumous.2

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.3 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 New York, in which the reporter identifies him as a cousin of the writer.4 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.'"5 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.

1. "Dernières œuvres de Picasso," Cahiers d'Art 2, no. 6 (1927): 197, 198.

2. Jim M. Jordan, "Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings," in The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue, by Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater (New York and LondonNew York University Press, 1982), 262.

3. 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.  

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

5. "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.

After works by other artists: Pablo Picasso

Related Work