Arshile Gorky a retrospective exhibition banner

The Artist and His Mother

The portraits assembled in this room were made across more than a decade. They constitute Gorky’s personal gallery of family and friends, likenesses captured, evoked, and memorialised. Many were worked over extended periods. Most significant are the two versions of The Artist and His Mother that derive from a photograph taken in 1912, which was sent to his father in America and rediscovered there by Gorky many years later. In the intervening years, he and his sister had fled the 1915 massacres in Turkish Armenia and witnessed their mother’s death from starvation. The first version of The Artist and His Mother served as a memorial to this loss and the events now widely held to constitute genocide.* Gorky worked and reworked the painting over many years, and then embarked upon the second version in parallel from 1929. These paintings and the other realistic portraits appear to have been largely completed around 1937, when he also made the Portrait of Master Bill and his own Self-Portrait.

* See Introduction