In 1929, Gorky began a series of abstract works which is now referred to as "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia." While he continued working on this until 1937, it was between 1931 and 1934 that he was most dedicated to developing the composition. Ultimately, he produced nearly one hundred drawings and three related paintings.
The drawing's first owner was Katherine S. Dreier (1877–1952), who paid $85 for it from the artist's first solo exhibition in New York, held at the Guild Art Gallery in the winter of 1935–36.1 Hers was the only purchase from the exhibition.
Dreier acquired the work for the collection of the Société Anonyme Inc. (Museum of Modern Art), which she founded with Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) in 1920. The pioneering organization was strictly not-for-profit with the goal of building a contemporary art collection and organizing exhibitions that were held both in their rented rooms on East 47th Street and at various other venues. For example, the Société Anonyme organized a show for the recently completed building of the New School for Social Research that opened on January 1, 1931. Among the artworks on view was one by Gorky titled Improvisation, a piece that has not been positively identified.
The collection of the Société Anonyme was presented by Dreier to Yale University Art Gallery in 1941.
1. The drawing was titled Abstraction. Guild Art Gallery, New York, Abstract Drawings by Arshile Gorky, December 16, 1935–January 5, 1936. Exhibition checklist with text by Holger Cahill.