ARSHILE GORKY (1904-1948)
ARSHILE GORKY (1904-1948)
ARSHILE GORKY (1904-1948)
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ARSHILE GORKY (1904-1948)
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ARSHILE GORKY (1904-1948)

Untitled (The Horns of the Landscape)

ARSHILE GORKY (1904-1948)
Untitled (The Horns of the Landscape)
graphite and wax crayon on paper laid down on canvas
19 x 24 in. (48.3 x 61 cm.)
Executed in 1944
Estate of the artist.
Galleria dell'Obelisco, Rome.
World House Galleries, New York.
Marilyn and Bernard Brodsky, New York (1958).
Stephen Mazoh & Co., New York.
Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2002.
P. Johnson, "Exhibit Reveals Gorky's Genius: Menil Collection Shows 140 of Artist's Works," Houston Chronicle, 6 March 2004, p. 10D.
E. Costello, ed., Arshile Gorky Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 2022-ongoing, no. D1139 (illustrated in color).
Rome, Galleria dell'Obelisco, Arshile Gorky, February 1957.
Cambridge, Hayden Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Drawings by Five Abstract Expressionist Painters: Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, February–March 1975, no. 15.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Arshile Gorky 1904–1948: A Retrospective, April-July 1981, p. 165, no. 132 (illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings, November 2003-February 2004, pp. 62 and 242 (illustrated in color, pl. 24).
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.


Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas


Untitled (The Horns of the Landscape) is exemplary of Arshile Gorky’s mature draftsmanship and his remarkable ability to create a vibrant cosmos of textures and forms with the use of just one, elemental medium. His vivid concatenation of bold graphite pencil, compassed by passages of erasure, filament-like extensions of line, dispersed smudges, and ghostly suggestions, score an ever-shifting portmanteau of natural and mechanical forms. Electrically divergent concentrations of graphite tease one across the drawn surface, keeping time with a symphony of shapes and technical tempos—variously sinuous, sharp, gentle, meandering, smooth, allusive, decisive, and repetitious.
The present work is the only known work on paper that is directly related to Gorky’s seminal 1944 painting, The Horns of the Landscape, an iconic masterwork in the collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. The drawn composition’s intricate linework and touches of color; its carefully rendered, yet seemingly spontaneous, organization; and enrapturing visual kineticism are closely referenced in the painting. The relationship between the two works beautifully testifies to Gorky’s process of transposition—across media and scale—that was integral to his practice, and which was creatively renewed in the mid-1940s during his several extended visits to Lincoln, Virginia. Liberated from the confines of his urban studio off Union Square, Gorky feverishly worked in, with, and among the land, daily “perched on his stool out on the side of the hill, sitting for hours without seeming to move, rooted, his drawing board held by one arm in front of him” (A. Magruder, letter to J. Reynal, Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song: A Life in Letters and Documents, Zurich, 2018, p. 317). The primary setting for Gorky’s plein air drawings in Virginia—such as would provide the genesis for this drawing—was Crooked Run Farm, a sprawling country property owned by his wife’s parents which doubled as a working farm. As observed by Janie C. Lee, curator of Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings, in which this work on paper was exhibited, Gorky often returned home with the drawings he made, creating “repetitions of them, [and] exploring multiple variations of each image. . . . to absorb the new ideas gained outdoors until they became an integral part of his formal vocabulary” (“The Power of Drawing,” Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2003, p. 63). The punctuations of color and their rooting in the “glorious red and gold world” of Shenandoah carry over into the painting’s lambent hues—mixing drippy washes of gold, auburn, and brown, enlivened with accents of yellow, purple, red, green and blue—each an echo of Gorky’s first witnessing of changing seasons in the American countryside (A. Magruder, letter to J. Reynal, ibid., p. 317).
Gorky’s sojourns to Crooked Run were his only prolonged chapters outside of the high-voltage density of New York since having first moved there in 1924, four years after his perilous flight from the Armenian genocide led him to Ellis Island. Although Gorky rarely, if ever, openly discussed his experiences of growing up in the Ottoman Empire on the shores of Lake Van and his witnessing of the relentless Ottoman-Turkish persecution of his Armenian community, the histories remained central to his perspective. In 1945, shortly after the creation of the present work, Gorky responded to a question posed to him by curators at The Museum of Modern Art, New York: “I was taken away from my little village when I was five years old yet all my vital memories are of these first years. These were the days when I smelled the bread, I saw my first red poppy, the moon, the innocent seeing. Since then these memories have become iconography, the shapes even the colors: millstone, red earth, yellow wheatfield, apricots, etc” (quoted in Arshile Gorky: Replies to a Museum of Modern Art Questionnaire, New York, 1945, p. 355). As an adult in the late 1920s and 30s, in the heady cultural atmosphere of Manhattan, Gorky undertook the assiduous self-directed study of old and modern masters that underscores the well-known phases of his early work. His prodigious frequenting of museum galleries and insatiable devouring of monographs and current periodicals—to keep apprised of aesthetic developments across the Atlantic—was to become legendary.
While the technical skill and compositional force of Untitled (The Horns of the Landscape) are informed by his long apprenticeship to fellow artists and their traditions, its biomorphic vocabularies and abiding gestural looseness speak to the creative liberation that was explosively propelled by Gorky’s triggering return to nature, to the earth, and to its synesthetic polyphonies. The composition’s unique world of shapes, at once suggestive of organic, living, and mechanical forms, capture the essence of Gorky’s magpie curiosity and childlike wonderment in his new surroundings—ranging from his careful gathering of chosen found objects and farm equipment for his studio, which itself occupied a converted barn; to the continuous hours he spent working outside; and his close observation of the native flora, fauna, and insect life—most fondly, of milkweed, purple thistles, ragweed, cockscomb, towering field grasses, and fireflies. Gorky’s intense absorptions of place, so beautifully rendered in this composition, reflect the surrealist habitat that he created for himself in his makeshift studio, in which he placed horse bones, “old rusty farm implements,” “bits of machinery,” and “hay ricks” (A. Magruder, letter to J. Reynal, ibid., p. 320).
Struck by the seismic shift in his work, Agnes Gorky’s letters from 1943 and ’44, the year this work on paper was executed and when Gorky first met Surrealist poet André Breton, further underscore how the 110-acre farm and its enveloping landscape were immediately revelatory for Gorky and his creative sensibilities: "His vision was clear and untrammeled by habit. He made only drawings. . . . A drawing is more direct and automatic, or should be, to have the lyrical freshness that a drawing should have, like a poem. . . . [Gorky] was able to discover himself and what he has done is to create a world of his own but a world equal to nature with the infinite complexities of nature and yet sweet, secretive and playful as nature is” (ibid., p. 290). Years later in 1957, Agnes selected Untitled (The Horns of the Landscape) for inclusion in the first solo presentation of her late husband’s work outside of the United States, at Rome’s Galleria dell’Obelisco.
In the last interview he gave, Gorky himself reflected his wife’s earlier sentiments: “You don't recognize [beauty] when you are looking for it, and you won't find it by looking in a magazine. It's right here in [nature, in] the moon, the stars, the horizon, the snow formations, the first patch of brown earth under the poplar” (T. Clapp, “A Painter in a Glass House,” Sunday Republican Magazine, 29 February 1948, p. 3). We may consider Untitled (The Horns of the Landscape) a direct emanation of the beauty—and the magnitude of creative release—that so transfixed Gorky’s sensibilities during the last (and first) years of his life.
Christie's would like to thank The Arshile Gorky Foundation for their help in writing this essay.

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