Reverse, center stretcher bar: 25 x 38 Arshile GORKY
In early August 1942, Gorky and his wife Agnes "Mougouch" (1921–2013) spent several weeks at the New Milford, Connecticut, home of their friend, the artist Saul Schary (1904–1978).1 Of the visit, Mougouch later wrote, “we spent 2 [weeks] in the country away from N.Y. [last summer] and during those two weeks Gorky did some very inspiring drawings from nature which have given him great impetus in his work and something quite new and miraculous is resulting. . . .”2
Schary, who Gorky had known since 1927, later recalled having taken the artist to a “ruined mill on the Housatonic river," explaining: “it was an old silica mill and there were these huge grindstones lying about. . . . The Connecticut Light and Power Company had gotten control of all the water power in Connecticut and so people abandoned the mills. And over the years, this mill fell into ruin and it was a very handsome and romantic ruin. And just below it, where they took the power from, was a waterfall. And Gorky’s drawings of it evolved out of the water falling over the rocks, and splashing up from the rocks and making these kind of strange forms."3
Gorky began the "Waterfall" series with a small pencil and crayon sketch, made during the trip to Connecticut and given to Schary (D0971a).4 A few days later while still in Connecticut, Gorky made a painting from the sketch which he also gave to Schary (P258). Approximately a year later, Gorky made two additional paintings on the theme (P259 and P262).5 According to Jim M. Jordan, P259 likely preceded P262 and was probably started in 1942. "In its great beauty," writes Jordan, "[P259 can] lay claim to being the first complete and successful rendition on canvas of Gorky's new abstract forms conceived in close association with meditation before nature."6
The painting is an early example of Gorky's use of a liner brush, the long-haired, fine-tipped paintbrush used by sign painters to make extremely thin lines of uniform weight. As a teenager, Willem de Kooning (1904–1997) learned about this tool while apprenticed to a decorating firm in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and takes credit for introducing it to Gorky. As de Kooning later recalled, Gorky was frustrated by not being able to transfer the delicate lines of his drawings into the compositions of his paintings with the large brushes he was using. "Once he bought [a liner brush], de Kooning remembers, Gorky spent the day in ecstasy painting long thin lines."7
According to Mougouch, when the art dealer Paul Rosenberg (1881–1959) saw this painting in December 1943 alongside P260 and P282 he "fell in love with [the works] and offered to take on Gorky."8 No agreement was made, however, and the following December, Gorky formalized his contract with Julien Levy Gallery in New York.
1. Letter from Arshile Gorky to Vartoosh Mooradian, August 2, 1942, Arshile Gorky/Mooradian Archive, Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, New York. Arshile Gorky to Vartoosh Mooradian, August 2, 1942, in Matthew Spender, ed., Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents, trans. Father Krikor Maksoudian (Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018), 159–60, 268–69.
2. Letter from Mougouch Gorky to Nathalie Campbell, February 1943, in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 278.
3. "Saul Schary: Gorky Starts Apple Orchard and Waterfall,” October 5, 1965, in ibid, 269; Saul Schary, interview by Karlen Mooradian, Arshile Gorky/Mooradian Archive, Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, New York; Saul Schary, "Conversations on Gorky," interview by Karlen Mooradian, October 5, 1965, The Many Worlds of Arshile Gorky (Chicago: Gilgamesh, 1980), 203–4.
4. See also D0971, P258, P259, and P262.
5. Letter from Harold Diamond to Agnes Gorky Phillips, March 4, 1965, AGF Archives.
6. Jim M. Jordan, "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), 82.
7. Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, de Kooning: An American Master (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016), 105. See also: William Seitz, "IV: Nature (c. 1942–48)," in Arshile Gorky: Paintings, Drawings, Studies, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1962), 34–5. Hayden Herrera adds that the artist Gabor Peterdi (1915–2001) also took credit for introducing the brush to Gorky. Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 434.
8. Fax from Agnes Gorky Fielding to Michael Auping, June 3, 1994, AGF Archives; see also: Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 315, fn. 27.