Room 12

Arshile Gorky a retrospective exhibition banner

The Limit

Gorky confronted the disasters of 1946 with resilience, even defiance. He was extremely productive in 1947. Key works, such as The Plow and the Song and Agony, see the openness and freedom of preceding paintings enriched by colour and complexity of texture. Gorky’s imagery also became increasingly personal and difficult to read, with forms melded together in richly chromatic structures. They seem to capture the temperature of mood (in a way that Gorky admired in Kandinsky) rather more than present specific themes. When such works were exhibited in February 1948, the influential critic Clement Greenberg recognised Gorky as ‘among the very few contemporary American painters whose work is of more than national importance’.

Some of the works from 1948 may remain unfinished, suggesting possibilities for the combination of memory and actuality that Gorky might have developed further. However, his depression worsened and he suffered significant injuries in a car crash, forcing him into a neck brace that prevented him from using his painting arm. Less than a month later, in July 1948, he took his life.