Reverse, center stretcher bar: 29 1/4 x 41 1/4 A. GORKY [paraph] 1943
Purchase with exchange funds from Blanche Adler Bequest, Frederic W. Cone, William A. Dickey Jr., Nelson and Juanita Greif Gutman Collection, Wilmer Hoffman, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Lion, Sadie A. May Bequest, Philip B. Perlman Bequest, Leo M. Rogers, Mrs. James N. Rosenberg, and Paul Vallotton, BMA 1964.15
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).3 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 Gallery, New York, Arshile Gorky: Paintings, April 9–May 4, 1946.
4. Julien Levy, Arshile Gorky (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1966), 35.