Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

Photo: Cathy Carver; © Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
c. 1943
Oil on canvas
38 1/8 x 25 1/8 in. (96.8 x 63.8 cm)
Front not inscribed
Reverse, center stretcher bar: 25 x 38 Arshile Gorky
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, Paintings by Arshile Gorky from 1929 to 1948, February 5–March 3, 1962, no. 14, ill. in b/w, as "Waterfall."
University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin, Painting as Painting, February 18–April 1, 1968, no. 26, ill. in b/w, p. 17, as "Waterfall."
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C, Arshile Gorky: The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Collection, October 4–November 25, 1979, no. 19, ill. in b/w, p. 33, as "Waterfall."
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April 24–July 19, 1981, no. 128, ill. in b/w, p. 162, as "Waterfall." Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 11–November 8, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, Flying Tigers: Painting and Sculpture in New York, 1939–1946, April 27–May 27, 1985, no. 10, ill. in b/w, p. 49, as "Waterfall." Traveled to: Cantor Art Gallery, Worcester, Massachusetts, April 27–May 27, 1985; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York, June 9–July 28, 1985.
Museum Bochum, Germany, Armenien: Wiederentdeckung einer alten Kulturlandschaft, January 14–April 17, 1995, no. 323, ill. in color, p. 395, as "Wasserfall."
Aichi Prefectural Museum, Nagoya, Japan, Abstract Expressionism, July 26–September 16, 1996, no. 17, ill. in color, p. 67, as "Waterfall." Traveled to: Sezon Museum of Art, Tokyo, June 6–July 14, 1996; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan, September 29–November 17, 1996.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 103, ill. in color, p. 264, as "Waterfall." Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010. (Gale 2010).; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010.
Hauser & Wirth, New York, Ardent Nature: Arshile Gorky Landscapes, 1943–47, November 2–December 23, 2017 (Exhibition catalogue: Spender and Devaney 2017), ill. in color, pp. 118–19; p. 138, as "Waterfall."
Levy, Julien. Arshile Gorky. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1966. Monograph, pl. 89, ill. in b/w, p. 113, as "Waterfall," dated c. 1943.
Rand, Harry. Arshile Gorky: The Implication of Symbols. London and Montclair, N.J.: George Prior and Allanheld & Schram, 1980, 1981. Monograph, fig. 6–1, ill. in b/w, p. 85, as "Waterfall."
Karp, Diane. "Arshile Gorky: The Language of Art." Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1982, fig. 81, ill. in b/w, p. 249, as "Waterfall."
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. 262, ill. in b/w, pp. 410–11, as "Waterfall," dated 1943.
Spender, Matthew. "Origines et développement de l'oeuvre dessiné de Arshile Gorky / Quellen und Entwicklung von Arshile Gorkys zeichnerischem Werk." In Arshile Gorky: Œuvres sur Papier, 1929–1947 / Arbeiten auf Papier, 1929–1947, Erika Billeter, ed. Lausanne: Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, 1990. Exhibition catalogue, fig. 12, ill. in b/w, p. 30, as "Waterfall."
Rand, Harry. Arshile Gorky: The Implication of Symbols. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991. Monograph, fig. 6–1, ill. in b/w, p. 97, as "Waterfall."
Rand, Harry. "Gorky's Waterfalls (1943)." Artnews (New York) 96 (November 1997), ill. in color, p. 118, as "Waterfall."
Beredjiklian, Alexandre. Arshile Gorky: sept thèmes majeurs. Suresnes, France: Alphamédian & Johanet; Lisbon: Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian, 2007. Monograph, discussed pp. 40, 41, as "Cascade."
Matttison, Robert S. Arshile Gorky: Works and Writings. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafica, 2009. Monograph, ill. in color, p. 65, as "Waterfall."
The painting was relined and the stretcher bars replaced. No documentation of the reverse of the original canvas has been made available. The inscription on the original center stretcher bar is known from the records of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


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, whom 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 However, no agreement was made 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 LondonNew 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.

Related Work

Theme: Landscape