Arshile Gorky 1904-1948
Inscribed 'A. Gorky' t.r.
Oil on canvas, 60 1/2 x 44 1/2 (154 x 113)
Purchased from the artist's estate through Knoedler, New York (Grant-in-Aid) with the aid of the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1971
Exh: Arshile Gorky, Whitney Museum, New York, January-February 1951 (29); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March-April 1951 (29); San Francisco Museum of Art, May-July 1951 (29); Arshile Gorky, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, December 1957 (10, repr.); Paintings by Arshile Gorky from 1929 to 1948, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, February-March 1962 (15, repr. in colour on catalogue cover); XXXI Biennale, Venice, June-October 1962 (Rooms XXXVII-XXXVIII 10); Arshile Gorky: Paintings, Drawings, Studies, Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 1962-February 1963 (47); Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, DC, March-April 1963 (47); Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, Tate Gallery, April-May 1965 (48, repr. in colour); Arshile Gorky: Peintures et Dessins, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, May-June 1965 (49, repr. in colour); Arshile Gorky, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, July-September 1965 (59, repr. in colour); on loan to the Tate Gallery from 1965 until acquired; Amerikansk Kunst 1950-70, Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, September-October 1971 (12)
Lit: Ethel K. Schwabacher, Arshile Gorky (New York 1957), pp.95-6, repr. colour pl.2
Repr: Harold Rosenberg, Arshile Gorky (New York 1962), p.85; Julien Levy, Arshile Gorky (New York 1966), pl.85 in colour
Gorky painted this picture at a crucial moment in his career when he had finally broken away from the influence of Picasso and Miró, and had begun to develop a very distinctive style of his own. After years of poverty and privation in the 1930s, he married his second wife Agnes ('Mougouch') in September 1941 and entered a happier period of his life. In the summer of 1942 he and his wife spent three weeks in the countryside in Connecticut and Gorky began while there to make drawings from nature. Except for a few sketches in Central Park, New York, he had not made any landscapes for many years.
The Tate's picture, which was painted in New York after his return, was preceded by several other paintings of waterfalls executed mainly in white. According to Saul Schary, in whose house the Gorkys stayed in Connecticut, the first of these was a picture 76 x 63.5cm originally in his collection (repr. in the Tate Gallery Gorky
catalogue, 1965, no.47). This seems to have served as starting-point both for another mainly white picture 'Abstract Composition' 68.5 x 90cm inscribed on the back 'New York 1942-3' (sold at Parke-Bernet, New York, 27 April 1960, lot 37 repr.) and for a richer and more colourful composition 'Housatonic Falls', 86.5 x 112cm, now in the collection of Mr and Mrs William B. Jaffe, New York, and said to have been begun in 1942-3.
Mrs Agnes Phillips, the artist's widow, points out in a letter of 1 June 1972 that whereas the Schary picture and the works related to it were inspired by a wide waterfall across the Housatonic River, the painting acquired by the Tate was based on a small waterfall in a wood. (It conveys very strongly an impression of overhanging trees and greenery). The first version of this composition was a predominantly silvery grey and white picture, with small patches of red-brown, black, yellow and blue, 96.5 x 63.5cm, which is now in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. 'Your Waterfall burst out of this whiteness in all its glorious colour ... The Tate Waterfall was one of the happiest paintings he ever made and he loved it'. Although she thinks it was painted from drawings made in Connecticut, she has never found any drawings for it.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.328-9, reproduced p.328