Reverse not inscribed
According to Agnes "Mougouch" Gorky (1921–2013), the painting was made during the fall of 1944 in the barn that had been converted into a studio for Gorky's use at Crooked Run Farm, in Lincoln, Virginia—the country home of her parents, the Magruders. The painting's overall composition is prefigured in a drawing dated to the same year (see related work).
Shortly before the Gorky family's departure from Virginia, Mougouch reported: "Gorky works on as though we were not leaving in a few days & yesterday started a huge canvas [P285], almost as big as the one in N.Y. [P281]. He must feel like a bonfire inside to tackle it."1
After the Gorkys returned to New York in November 1944, at the prompting of the artist David Hare (1917–1992), Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) visited Gorky's 36 Union Square studio, where she encountered the painting which she purchased, without a title, that same month. The sale took place only months before Gorky and André Breton (1896–1966) were to devise a collaborative method for titling works, which would serve as the basis for Gorky's selection of titles thereafter (see commentary for P278). It is possible that Guggenheim's acquisition simply took place before Gorky arrived at a title, however, the scholar Jim M. Jordan has speculated that perhaps "Gorky was still afraid that more personal titles would be misunderstood, or thought excessively romantic."2
Writing to Jeanne Reynal (1903–1983) soon after Guggenheim's acquisition, Mougouch recounted, "Peggy Guggenheim bought one of the latest largest pictures [P285]. She was crazy to have the one in [Sidney] Janis' show [P281] but felt it was too large and everyone who has seen the one she bought thinks it much more advanced and interesting."3 Gorky, however, was reportedly "initially reluctant to leave [the surface of P285] so empty."4
1. Letter from Mougouch Gorky to Jeanne Reynal, November 1944, in Matthew Spender, ed., Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents (Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018), 319.
2. 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), 86.
3. Letter from Mougouch Gorky to Jeanne Reynal, December 1944 (started in N.Y. and finished in C.T.), in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 328.
4. Agnes Gorky Fielding, interview by Matthew Spender, September 30, 1991, transcript, Matthew Spender Papers, AGF Archives.