Verso not seen
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 body of work can be divided into subsets, such as Objects and Enigma, which were Gorky's own titles, as well as the posthumously titled, "Écorché"; "Column with Objects"; and "Fish and Head."
The drawing is one of fourteen known examples of "Fish and Head," which were informed by Giorgio de Chirico's (1888–1978) painting The Fatal Temple, 1914 (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Gorky encountered the painting at A.E. Gallatin's Gallery of Living Art in New York, where it was on view from 1927.1 Gallatin's museum numbers among those that the artist frequently visited, especially given its proximity to his two longest-held New York studios: 47a Washington Square South, which he rented from 1928 to 1930, and 36 Union Square, which he leased from 1930 until his death in 1948.
The drawing's first owners were the architect, William Muschenheim (1902–1990), and his wife Lisa (1912–1967), both of whom met Gorky in 1931 through a mutual friend. The couple saw Gorky frequently in New York and at their family home in Hampton Bays, Long Island, until the early 1940s. Of Gorky and his visits, William Muschenheim later recalled: "We always immensely enjoyed the hours with [Gorky]. Conversations were always stimulating. They were usually about art, people, attitudes towards daily and more significant occurrences. . . . He frequently spoke about his childhood, his experiences on the beaches of the Caspian Sea, and of his mother. We did not see much of him after his last marriage [to Agnes "Mougouch" Magruder (1921–2013) in September 1941], particularly after they moved to Connecticut [in December 1944]."2
1. Letter from William Muschenheim to Karlen Mooradian, May 18, 1966, AGF Archives.