Reverse, stretcher bar: The Betrothal – A Gorky
In 1934, two years after Gorky's younger sister Vartoosh Mooradian (née Adoian; 1906–1991) and her husband Moorad (1896–1963) had left their home in Massachusetts for Soviet Armenia in an unsuccessful attempt to find work, Vartoosh was eager to return to the United States. They could not afford the trip and Vartoosh was not yet an American citizen, so Gorky contacted Katharine Ordway (1899–1979), a philanthropist and art patron, who agreed to pay for their return. Gorky returned the favor in late January 1948 when he donated the painting to the International Relief & Rescue Committee, an organization Ordway supported, as a way of contributing to their efforts.
On January 27, 1948, Gorky wrote to the Committee's Executive Secretary Sheba Strunsky (1903–1979) from Sherman, Connecticut: "My painting, The Betrothal [P340], 38" x 51" oil on canvas, price $900 is at my studio, 36 Union Sq. E. New York 3. Apt #7. I have arranged with my tenants to have it ready when & if you are able to collect it. . . . I'm very glad to be able to contribute something to your good work."1
The painting was never shown during the artist's lifetime and Gorky's identification of its title in his letter confirming its donation only came to light years later. Katharine Ordway acquired the painting from the Committee's March 1949 fundraiser auction and showed it just once during the three decades that she owned it. The small exhibition, which opened in May 1968, consisted of a selection of works from her collection and was held at the St. Paul Art Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, the city in which she was born.
The opportunity to consider the painting in relation to his larger body of work, therefore, did not take place until after Ordway's estate bequeathed her collection to the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1980. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be confirmed that Gorky gave a version of the title, The Betrothal, to four works, all of which share the same imagery and dimensions. The artist sent one such drawing (D1492), along with two paintings (P338 and P339), to Julien Levy Gallery in late 1947. Because the two paintings were exhibited together the following February, Gorky added roman numerals to the titles in order to distinguish between them; they became The Betrothal I and The Betrothal II, respectively. The drawing went to the Whitney Museum for its Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Sculpture, Watercolors, and Drawings which opened in late January 1948 and Gorky also titled it The Betrothal.
1. Letter from Arshile Gorky to Sheba Strunsky, January 27, 1948, AGF Archives; reprinted in Jim M. Jordan, "Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings," in Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater, The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue (New York and London: New York University Press, 1982), 517.