Arshile Gorky: Room 11: Betrothals

Arshile Gorky a retrospective exhibition banner


A fire in Gorky’s rural studio in January 1946 destroyed a whole year’s worth of recent work. At a time when his career was beginning to flourish, this was a devastating blow. It was compounded the following month when he was diagnosed with cancer, requiring an emergency operation that proved successful but also demanded a long recuperation. Initially too weak to paint, Gorky returned to drawing, eventually working with surprising energy while recovering in Virginia. In the face of adversity, Gorky worked from memory and from earlier drawings to bring some of the lost compositions back to life. As a result he made a sequence of remarkable new paintings. The vertical canvases in this room began before these disasters, but extend beyond them. They concentrated his response and achieve their balance by restrained means, especially Charred Beloved, which memorialises the losses of the fire. The associated compositions called The Betrothal bring together a more complex network of bodily forms that suggest encounter and fulfilment, but also conflict.