Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné
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Catalogue Entry

© Courtesy Detroit Institute of Arts Photography Studio
[Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia: 1934]
c. 1933–34
Ink and graphite pencil on paper
Sheet: 18 3/4 x 25 in. (47.6 x 63.5 cm)
Not inscribed
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 15, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 44, ill. in color, pp. 200–01, as "Study for Mural (Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia)." Traveled to: Tate Modern, London, February 10–May 3, 2010. (Gale 2010).; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, June 6–September 20, 2010.
Lader, Melvin P., Joseph P. Ruzicka, Martin Kline, and Sarah E. Lawrence. "Catalogue [of Plates]." In Arshile Gorky and the Genesis of Abstraction: Drawings from the Early 1930s. New York: Stephen Mazoh & Co., Inc., Distributed by the University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1994. Exhibition catalogue, fig. 24, ill. in b/w, p. 81, as "Untitled (Study for a mural incorporating the imagery of Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia)."
The verso inscription information is known from a photograph provided by the Detroit Institute of Arts.


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 when 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"; "Fish and Head"; "The Fatal Temple"; and "Column with Objects." 

The imagery for the 1934 mural design is derived primarily from Gorky's "Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia" series. In combining the various elements from the series, Gorky borrowed the compositional structure of Paolo Uccello's six-part tempera panel Miracle of the Desecrated Host (c. 1467–69), black-and-white reproductions of which were pinned to his studio wall. 

On December 22, 1933, two days after joining the newly formed Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), Gorky submitted a "Subject Card" outlining his concepts for the mural and explaining: "My subject matter is directional. American plains are horizontal. New York City which I live in [sic] is vertical. In the middle of my picture stands a column which symbolizes the determination of the American nation. Various abstract scenes take place in the back of this column. My intention is to create objectivity of the articles which I have detached from their habitual surroundings to be able to give them heightened realism."1 Gorky's two applications describe the mural as a "graphic" work, titled 1934, with the following suggested installation sites: the "Port of New York Authority 15th St & 8th Ave," the "entrance to [the] museum of peaceful Arts," the "News Building 42 east 2 Ave in mashinery [sic] dept," or in "Technical Universities," such as an Engineering School.2

D0194, D0192, and D1531 are the only identified preparatory drawings for the project. The preliminary mural design was approved by the PWAP on February 13, 1934 (the exact drawing[s] submitted for review are unidentified). On February 16, 1934, Gorky commenced work on a color detail, in oil on canvas, measuring 25 x 40 inches (not identified; possibly not completed), for which he was advised to focus on the right-hand section of his design (as appears in D0194).3

Despite the PWAP's initial endorsement, Gorky was dropped from the organization's employment roster on April 29, 1934, possibly because his composition was considered too abstract by the Committee administrators: Juliana Force (1876–1948) and Lloyd Goodrich (1897–1987). The mural was never realized and the organization itself dissolved in June 1934. This is the only known project of Gorky's affiliated with the PWAP.

The first owner of the drawing was Gorky's close friend, the mosaicist Jeanne Reynal (1903–1989). The two met in New York in June 1941 at a dinner party given by their mutual friend Margaret "Peggy" Osborn (1896–1983). Reynal immediately took to the artist and his future wife Agnes "Mougouch" Magruder (1921–2013). For years after Gorky's death, the two women remained close and maintained a regular correspondence. It is unclear exactly when Reynal acquired the drawing, which may have come directly from the artist or from his estate. 

1. Arshile Gorky, "Public Works of Art Project, Subject Card," December 22, 1933, AGF Archives. "Arshile Gorky: Public Works of Art Project, Subject Card," December 22, 1933, in Matthew Spender, ed., Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents (Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publishers, 2018), 69.

2. Arshile Gorky, "Public Works of Art [Project Proposal]," January 17, 1934, AGF Archives; see also: "Arshile Gorky: Returned PWAP Application Form," January 17, 1934, in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 69–70. Arshile Gorky, "Project Description Form for the PWAP" (completed at the request of Lloyd Goodrich), February 16, 1934, AGF Archives; see also: "Arshile Gorky: Returned PWAP Form Relating to 1934," February 16, 1934, in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 71.

3. Letter from Lloyd Goodrich to Arshile Gorky, February 13, 1934, AGF Archives; see also: Lloyd Goodrich to Arshile Gorky, February 13, 1934, in Spender, ed., The Plow and the Song, 70.

Paolo Uccello, Miracle of the Desecrated Host, scene 2, c. 1467–69. Oil on panel, 138 x 17 in. (350.3 x 43.2 cm). Galleria Nazionale della Marche, Urbino.
Gorky's personal copy of a reproduction of scenes 3 and 4 from Miracle of the Desecrated Host (c. 1467–69) by Paolo Uccello.

After works by other artists: Mario Tozzi; Uccello

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