An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection
This work is recorded in the Arshile Gorky Foundation Archives under number P286.
Arshile Gorky’s Good Afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln is an important painting that acts as an exceptional example of his unique artistic vocabulary. His masterful paint handling technique and unparalleled graphic ability can be seen in the abstract forms and meandering lines that fill the canvas, all interspersed with pools of vivid color. Executed in 1944, this painting was completed at the peak of Gorky’s career, evidenced by the fact that several other important paintings from this period are now housed in major museum collections: Summer 1944; Water of the Flowery Mill; and The Liver is the Cock’s Comb all date from the same year and are in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Metropolitan Museum, New York; and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, respectively. Speaking of such works, the influential critic Clement Greenberg wrote that Gorky was among the “very few contemporary American painters whose work is of more than national importance. Gorky has for a long time been one of the best brush-handlers alive, but he was unable until recently to find enough for his brush to say. Now he seems to have found that in celebrating the elements of the art he practices and in proclaiming his mastery over them” (C. Greenberg, quoted in J. O’Brian, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2: Arrogant Purpose, 1945-1949, 1986. Chicago, p. 219).
Across his highly active surface, Gorky lays out a series of meandering lines that—as they traverse the picture plane—morph into an alluring assembly of nebulous shapes. Some appear as fluid forms seemingly devoid of any recognizable features, while others maintain more complex—almost familiar—shapes, before falling back into anonymity. Some of these forms are deliberately left empty, while others are embellished with jewel-like color; flashes of jade green and sapphire blue adorn a large upright form in the upper right quadrant for example, while other—more muted—yellows, oranges and burnt umbers augment other forms in the lower register. At the same time, translucent washes of pale yellows, blues and greens suggest the bucolic landscape of Virginia with which Gorky had become so enamored.
The painting of Good Afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln coincides directly with the time that the artist began to stay in a house called Crooked Run Farm, near Lincoln, Virginia, with his new wife’s family, and the name of this painting is a possible reference to the address of his home at the time. Virginia was a stimulating and substantial contrast to New York (which had been the artist’s base for the last couple of decades), as it reminded him of the happiest times of his childhood spent in rural Armenia. Being able to connect with the landscape and the seasons in a sustained way for the first time since his childhood was to prove immensely important to the development of his work. “Gorky immediately liked Virginia” his wife recalled of the happy time they spent there. “It was hilly and had a little brook. He arrived with no paints and no easel, as we couldn’t fit much into the car. All he took were wax crayons and watercolours and buckets of paper. And that’s what he feverishly worked on all summer” (A. Magruder, quoted in M. Fielding, in “My Gorky,” in Tate etc., Spring 2010). The paintings that Gorky completed over the course of 1944 set out the motifs, colors and compositions of later works, all of which retained the spontaneity and the immediacy of working outside. “He was fascinated by the change of the vegetation and was happy drawing all day in the fields,” Fielding continued. “He couldn’t get over the beauty of the milkweed with its pods with curious feathers. It took him a long time to get into his drawing. He would sit for quite a while. Then he would get up, move around, take a stick and beat the grass, to be certain there weren’t any snakes in it, and then make himself comfortable” (M. Fielding, ibid.).
The change of scene from New York, where Gorky had arrived in 1920 as a refugee from war-torn Armenia, resulted in a palpable transformation of his technique and attitude towards his work. His paintings became infused with a sense of liberation, lines became looser and more free-flowing, color became more dilute, exposing something of the layers below, while his characteristic array of floating polymorphic forms became clearer and more determined. Careful observations of the natural world blend with shapes formed in his mind’s eye, to create a lyrical confluence of memory and the experience of the immediate moment.
The childhood recollections that these rural surroundings stimulated were also encouraged by his recent encounter with the work of the European Surrealists. Earlier in 1944, Gorky had met the Surrealists’ leading proponent, André Breton, for the first time. Breton soon became a good friend and one of Gorky’s major supporters. With his encouragement, Gorky became more integrated into the Surrealist group (many of whom were living as exiles in New York) and engaged with their avant-garde thinking. Breton was also instrumental to helping him find a dealer, Julien Levy, in 1945, which give Gorky security for the first time. Good Afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln reflects how the Surrealists’ dreamlike forms, so abundant in the sculpture and paintings of Jean Arp, Roberto Matta and Joan Miró, had a particular influence resonance with Gorky. They also mark how he began to incorporate the Surrealists’ belief in automatism–the visual equivalent to Freud’s free association–allowing each painterly gesture freedom from conscious control, in order to connect with the inner psyche. Gorky’s synthesis of post-impressionist and modernism’s central concerns, combined with his passionate embrace of nature, created a new vision for painting that would inform the work of his fellow artists of the 1940s and 1950s. Jackson Pollock saw him as a rival, for instance, and he was a friend and inspiration to Willem de Kooning, whom he had met in the 1920s. “He knew lots more about painting and art,” de Kooning recalled. “He had an uncanny instinct for all art... an extraordinary gift for hitting the nail on the head” (W. de Kooning, quoted in “The Mysterious Art of Arshile Gorky” by William Feaver, The Guardian, February 6, 2010, via www.theguardian.com). Thus, the expressive gestures, lyrical lines and enigmatic imagery Good Afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln reflects not only one of the happiest times of Gorky’s life, but a body of work that would anticipate the Abstract Expressionist movement, and leave a legacy that continues to resonate today.
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An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection
Good Afternoon, Mrs. Lincoln
and dated 'A. Gorky '44' (lower left)
Arshile Gorky (1904-1948)
New York, Kootz Gallery, Selected Paintings by the Late Arshile Gorky, March-April 1950.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; San Francisco Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky Memorial Exhibition, January-July 1951, no. 30.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, 33 Paintings by Arshile Gorky, December 1957, n.p., pl. 20 (illustrated).
Venice, XXXI Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, Arshile Gorky, June-October 1962, no. 15.
New York, Museum of Modern Art; Washington, D.C., The Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Arshile Gorky: Paintings, Drawings, Studies, December 1962-February 1963, pp. 33 and 54. pl. 66 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery; Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts; Rotterdam, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Arshile Gorky, Paintings and Drawings, April-August 1965, n.p., no. 59 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie de L'Oeil, L'Ecart absolu, December, 1965, no. 44.
Turin, Galleria Il Museo Civico, Le Muse Inquietanti: Maestri del Surrealismo, November 1967-January 1968, p. 188, no. 260 (illustrated).
Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; Tokyo, The Seibu Museum of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years, March-December 1978.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Dallas Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Arshile Gorky 1904-1948: A Retrospective, April 1981-February 1982, n.p., no. 149 (illustrated in color).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Arshile Gorky: The Breakthrough Years, May 1995-March 1996, pp. 96-97, pl. 4 (illustrated in color).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Seattle Art Museum, Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, March-November 2000, pp. 110-114 and 283, no. 23 (illustrated in color).
Philadelphia Museum of Art; London, Tate Modern; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 2009-September 2010, pp. 280, pl. 119 (illustrated in color).
E. K. Schwabacher, Arshile Gorky, New York, 1957, pp. 98-99.
A. Jouffroy, "Arshile Gorky et les secrets de la nuit,” Cahiers du musée de poche, vol. 2, June 1959, p. 79 (illustrated).
K. Roberts, "Major Retrospective at the Tate,” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 107, no. 746, May 1965, p. 271.
J. Levy, Arshile Gorky, New York, 1966, n.p., pl. 115 (illustrated in color).
E. Wasserman, The American Scene – Early Twentieth Century, New York, 1970, pp. 68 and 91, pl. 50 (illustrated in color).
A. Kingsley, "Reviews and Previews," ARTnews, vol. 72, no. 1, January 1973, p. 18.
A. Kingsley, "New York Letter," Art International, vol. 27, no. 2, February 1973, p. 42.
Y. Kagitani, "Arshile Gorky: A Man Who Lived in the Middle of Solitude," Mizue, vol. 9, no. 858, September 1976, p. 32 (illustrated).
H. Rand, Arshile Gorky: The Implication of Symbols, New Jersey, 1981, pp. 8 and 110-113, pl. 6, fig. 6-11 (illustrated).
J. M. Jordan and R. Goldwater, The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue, New York, 1982, pp. 441-442, no. 286 (illustrated).
M. P. Lader, Arshile Gorky, New York, 1985, pp. 80-81, fig. 75 (illustrated).
I. Dervaux, "Détail, analogie, et mimétisme. De l'inspiration de la nature dans les abstractions de Arshile Gorky," Les Cahier du Musée national d'art moderne, vol. 65, Autumn 1998, p. 58 (illustrated).
N. Matossian, Black Angel: A Life of Arshile Gorky, London, 1998, pp. 365 and 425.
M. Spender, From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky, New York, 1999, pp. 274-275 and 283.
H. Herrera, Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work, New York, 2003, p. 455, 458 and 766, fig. 161 (illustrated in color).
D. Ngo, ed., Art + Architecture: The Ebsworth Collection + Residence, San Francisco, 2006, n.p. (installation views illustrated in color).
A. Beredjiklian, Arshile Gorky: sept thèmes majeurs, Suresnes and Lisbon, 2007, pp. 52, 65 and 137.
Estate of the artist
Merrill C. Berman, New York
Allan Stone Gallery, New York, 1974
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1997