Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
Print this page

Catalogue Entry

enlarge
Photo: Mitro Hood
Inscription on the center stretcher bar
Exhibitions
Julien Levy Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky: Paintings, April 9–May 4, 1946, no. 11, as The Unattainable.
Museum of Modern Art, New York, Fourteen Americans, September 10–December 8, 1946 (Exhibition catalogue: Miller 1946), no. 35, p. 77; ill. in b/w, p. 21, as The Unattainable.
Museum of Modern Art, New York, Department of Circulating Exhibitions (organizer), Fourteen Americans, 1947, no. 16, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, January 5–26, 1947; Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida, February 7–March 10, 1947; Cincinnati Modern Art Society, March 20–April 17, 1947; San Francisco Museum of Art, May 6–June 1, 1947; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, June 15–30, 1947; Indiana University Art Center Gallery, Bloomington, October 11–18, 1947.
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, 35 American Painters of Today, February 22–March 19, 1950, no. 9, as The Unattainable.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Arshile Gorky Memorial Exhibition, January 5–February 18, 1951, no. 41, ill. in b/w, p. 35; p. 47, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March 4–April 22, 1951; San Francisco Museum of Art, California, May 9–July 9, 1951.
Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey, Arshile Gorky: A Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings, October 6–26, 1952, no. 13, as The Unattainable.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky in the Final Years, February 16–March 14, 1953, no. 8, as The Unattainable.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, Recent Paintings by 7 Americans, September 24–October 20, 1956, no. 7, as The Unattainable.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 33 Paintings by Arshile Gorky, December 2–28, 1957 (Exhibition catalogue: Sidney Janis Gallery 1957), no. 21, ill. in b/w, as The Unattainable.
XXXI Biennale di Venezia: Internazionale d'Arte, U.S. Pavillion, Venice, Italy, Arshile Gorky, June 16–October 7, 1962, no. 19, p. 114, as "L'irraggiungibile."
Museum of Modern Art, New York, Arshile Gorky, 1904–1948, December 19, 1962–February 12, 1963, no. 79, ill. in b/w, p. 34, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, D.C, March 12–April 14, 1963.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 11 Abstract Expressionist Painters, October 7–November 2, 1963, no. 5, ill. in b/w, as The Unattainable.
Arts Council of Great Britain, London (organizer), Tate Gallery, Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, April 2–May 2, 1965, no. 69, ill. in b/w, as The Unattainable.
Arts Council of Great Britain, London (organizer), Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Arshile Gorky, Paintings and Drawings / Arshile Gorky: Schilderijen en Tekeningen, May 22–June 27, 1965, no. 103, ill. in b/w, as "Het onbereikbare / The unattainable." Traveled to: Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, July 24–September 5, 1965. (Museum Boymans van Beuingen 1965)..
Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, Kompass III: Schilderkunst na 1945 uit New York / Malerei nach 1945 aus New York / Paintings after 1945 in New York, November 9–December 17, 1967, no. 5, ill. in b/w, p. 36, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, December 30, 1967–February 11, 1968 (as Kompass New York).
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970, October 18, 1969–February 8, 1970 (Exhibition catalogue: Geldzahler 1969), no. 92, as The Unattainable.
University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin, Arshile Gorky: Drawings to Paintings, October 12–November 23, 1975 (Exhibition catalogue: University of Texas at Austin 1975), ill. in color, p. 10, as "The Dialogue of the Edge"; p. 104, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: San Francisco Museum of Art, December 4, 1975–January 12, 1976; Neuberger Museum, Purchase College, State University of New York, February 10–March 14, 1976; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York, April 4–May 9, 1976.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April 24–July 19, 1981, no. 183, ill. in b/w, p. 208, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, September 11–November 8, 1981; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 3, 1981–February 28, 1982.
Gagosian Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky: Late Paintings, January 11–March 5, 1994, ill. in color, p. 33, as The Unattainable.
Brooklyn Museum, New York, Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940–1960, October 12, 2001–January 6, 2002. Traveled to: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, February 16–May 12, 2002; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, June 21–September 15, 2002; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, November 17, 2002–February 23, 2003; Phoenix Art Museum, April 4–January 29, 2003.
National Academy of Design, New York, Surrealism USA, February 17–May 8, 2005, no. 93, ill. in color, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Phoenix Art Museum, June 5–September 25, 2005.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 134, ill. in color, p. 295, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010. (Gale 2010).; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010.
Royal Academy of Arts, London, Abstract Expressionism, September 24, 2016–January 2, 2017 (Exhibition catalogue: Devaney and Wurst 2016), no. 18, ill. in color, p. 150, as The Unattainable. Traveled to: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, February 3–June 4, 2017.
Literature
Greene, Balcomb. "Fourteen Americans." MKR's Art Outlook (New York) 1, no. 14 (October 7, 1946), discussed, p. 4, as "Unattainable."
de Kooning, Elaine. "Gorky: Painter of his Own Legend." ARTnews (New York) 49, no. 9 (January 1951), discussed p. 65, as The Unattainable.
Goodrich, Lloyd. "Eight Works by Arshile Gorky with Notes by Lloyd Goodrich." Magazine of Art (Washington, D.C.) 44 (February 1951), ill. in b/w, p. 60, as The Unattainable.
"Gorky: Was He Tops or Second Rate." Art Digest (New York) 25 (January 15, 1951), ill. in b/w, p. 9, as The Unattainable.
Loftus, John. "Arshile Gorky: A Monograph." M.A. Thesis, Columbia University, New York, 1952, pl. XXXII, ill. in b/w, as The Unattainable.
Coates, Robert M. "The Art Galleries." The New Yorker 29 (February 28, 1953), discussed p. 83, as The Unattainable.
McBride, Henry. "Success at last." Artnews (New York) 52 (April 1953), ill. in b/w, p. 66, as The Unattainable.
Schwabacher, Ethel. Arshile Gorky. New York: The Macmillan Company for the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1957. Monograph, fig. 46, ill. in b/w, p. 103, as The Unattainable.
Rosenblum, Robert. "Arshile Gorky." Review of Arshile Gorky, by Ethel Schwabacher. Arts Magazine (New York) 32, no. 4 (January 1958), discussed p. 31, as The Unattainable.
Reiff, Robert F. "A Stylistic Analysis of Arshile Gorky's Art from 1943–1948." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, New York, 1961, fig. 62, ill. in b/w, p. 340, as The Unattainable.
Rosenberg, Harold. Arshile Gorky: The Man, the Time, the Idea. New York: Horizon Press, 1962. Monograph, ill. in b/w, p. 93, as The Unattainable.
Ahlander, Leslie Judd. "Gorky, Greene Are on Exhibit." The Washington Post, March 17, 1963, ill. in b/w, p. G6, as The Unattainable.
Reiff, Robert. "The Late Works of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Estimate." Art Journal (New York) 22, no. 3 (Spring 1963), discussed p. 149, as The Unattainable.
Baltimore Museum of Art. "Recent Accessions: A Selection." Baltimore Museum of Art News 27, nos. 2–4 (1964), ill. in b/w, p. 48, as The Unattainable.
"Acquisitions of Works of Art by Museums and Galleries; Baltimore Museum of Art: Two Works by Arshile Gorky." The Burlington Magazine (London) 107, no. 742 (January 1965), fig. 69, ill. in b/w, p. 52, as The Unattainable.
Delevoy, Robert L. Dimensions of the Twentieth Century: 1900–1945. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. Geneva: Editions d'Art Albert Skira, 1965, ill. in color, p. 210, as The Unattainable.
"Obras do pinter norte-americano Arshile Gorky." Página Central (Lisbon), 1965, ill. in b/w, as The Unattainable.
Levy, Julien. Arshile Gorky. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1966. Monograph, pl. 134, ill. in color, p. 158, as The Unattainable.
Rubin, William S. Dada and Surrealist Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1968, fig. 410, ill. in b/w, p. 392, as The Unattainable.
Geldzahler, Henry. New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970. New York: E.P. Dutton, in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969 (1969–70a New York), no. 92, ill. in b/w, p. 159; p. 46, as The Unattainable.
Haney, William L. "What If?" Art Journal (New York) 31, no. 2 (Winter 1971–72), ill. in b/w, p. 173, as The Unattainable.
Weegar, Sally. "Another view of Arshile Gorky." The Austin American-Statesman (TX), November 2, 1975, discussed p. 9, as The Unattainable.
Greene, Balcomb. "Memories of Arshile Gorky." Arts Magazine (New York) 50, no. 7 (March 1976), ill. in color, p. 108, as The Unattainable.
Rathbone, Eliza E. "Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song." In American Art at Mid-Century: The Subjects of the Artist. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1978. Exhibition catalogue, fig. 22, ill. in b/w, p. 73, as The Unattainable.
Jordan, Jim M. "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, discussed p. 87, as The Unattainable.
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. 302, ill. in b/w, pp. 463–65, as The Unattainable.
Seitz, William C. Abstract Expressionist Painting in America. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press for the National Gallery of Art, 1983, fig. 76, ill. in b/w, as The Unattainable.
Lader, Melvin P. Arshile Gorky. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985. Monograph, fig. 92, ill. in b/w, p. 92, as The Unattainable.
Waldman, Diane. Willem de Kooning. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1988, fig. 38, ill. in b/w, p. 54, as The Unattainable.
Bacon, George. "Late Gorky at Gagosian." The Art Newspaper (London) 5 (February 1994), discussed p. 27, as The Unattainable.
Sawin, Martica. Surrealism in Exile and the Beginning of the New York School. Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1995, ill. in b/w, p. 381, as The Unattainable.
Dervaux, Isabelle. "Détail, analogie et mimétisme: De l'inspiration de la nature dans les abstractions de Arshile Gorky." Les Cahiers du Musée National d'Art Moderne (Paris) 65 (Autumn 1998), ill. in b/w, p. 59, as The Unattainable.
Rapaport, Brooke Kamin. "The Greater Mystery of Things: Aspects of Vital Forms in American Art." In Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940–1960. New York: Brooklyn Museum of Art in association with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001. Exhibition catalogue, fig. 72, p. 98, ill. in color, p. 99, as The Unattainable.
Matttison, Robert S. Arshile Gorky: Works and Writings. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafica, 2009. Monograph, ill. in color, p. 103, as The Unattainable.
Notes
Reverse, in chalk, upper stretcher bar [not in artist's hand]: J. LEVY [upside down]
The inscription on the center stretcher bar and marking on the upper stretcher bar are known from a photograph provided by the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Commentary

The painting exemplifies Gorky's mastery of the "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 using his large brushes. "Once he bought [a liner brush], de Kooning remembers, Gorky spent the day in ecstasy painting long thin lines."1 Gorky first experimented with a liner brush around 1943, using it to create several paintings before setting it aside until 1945.2 

The painting was titled by Gorky in anticipation of his spring 1946 solo show at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, likely through a collaborative process of free association, which he and André Breton (1896–1966) had experimented with a year earlier (see commentary for P287).In Julien Levy's (1906–1981) later approximation of Gorky's words, the title arose from among the following associations: ". . . why are not my pictures in all the museums? The Wadsworth Atheneum is a good museum. A wonderful exhibition of Picasso [in 1934], and the critics were so kind. Henry McBride is a kind critic. In the forecourt of the Wadsworth Atheneum there is a marble pool. They tell me that Charles Henry Ford went wading in it. Why not me? . . ."4

Gorky often backdated his paintings and also frequently reworked the same canvas over many years. Here, the date inscribed on the center stretcher bar, "1943," likely refers to the former scenario. It is also possible that Gorky reused an existing stretcher, which he is known to have done, especially as a cost-saving measure. Stylistically, it is more likely that the painting was completed in 1945, as the date inscribed on the front suggests. The overall composition is informed by a drawing dated to the latter year (see related work).

The first collector to own the painting was Edgar A. Levy (1878–1958), a New York-based real estate developer, lawyer, and the father of Gorky's last lifetime dealer, Julien Levy, from whom he purchased the work in 1946. 

1. Harold Rosenberg, Arshile Gorky: The Man, The Time, The Idea (New York: Horizon Press, 1962), 68. Hayden Herrera adds that the artist Gabor Peterdi (1915–2001) also took credit for introducing the liner brush to Gorky. Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 434.

2. See also: P261, P270, P262, P283, P265, P297, and P299.

3. Julien Levy GalleryNew YorkArshile Gorky: PaintingsApril 9–May 4, 1946.

4. Julien Levy, Arshile Gorky (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1966), 35.

Related Work
[Drawing, The Unattainable], 1945, D1152
1945
Graphite pencil and crayon on paper
D1152
Graphite pencil and crayon on paper