Arshile GORKY | Plumage landscape

Arshile GORKY
Turkey (Armenia) 1904 – United States of America 1948

Plumage landscape 1947 oil on canvas
signed and dated u.r., oil, "A. Gorky/ 47"
96.5 (h) x 129.5 (w) cm Purchased 1973 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1973.833 © Arshile Gorky/ADAGP. Licensed by Viscopy

  • the artist;
  • from whom bought through Julien Levy Gallery, New York, by Sidney Janis, New York, 1947;
  • with G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh, c. 1958;
  • with Galerie Beyeler, Basel, in 1960;
  • with Richard Feigen Gallery, Chicago, in 1961;
  • to Mrs Muriel Steinberg, Chicago, in 1961;
  • with Paul Kantor Gallery, Beverly Hills, and E.V. Thaw & Co. Inc., New York, in 1962;
  • with Norton Simon, Los Angeles, in 1964;
  • to Norton Simon Inc. Museum of Art, Los Angeles, in 1966;
  • bought through Fourcade, Droll Inc., New York, by the Acquisitions Committee of the Australian National Gallery, December 1973
  • Arshile Gorky in the Final Years
    • Sidney Janis Gallery 16 Feb 1953 – 14 Mar 1953
  • Thirty Three Paintings by Arshile Gorky
    • Sidney Janis Gallery 02 Dec 1957 – 28 Dec 1957
  • On loan to Andrew Dickson White Museum of Modern Art, Cornell University
    • Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art 31 Mar 1959 – 11 May 1959
  • Sammlung G. David Thompson, Pittsburg
    • Kunsthaus Zurich 1960-10- – 1960-11-
    • Kunstmuseum Dusseldorf 14 Dec 1960 – 29 Jan 1961
  • New York School, The First Generation: Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s
    • Los Angeles County Museum of Art 16 Jun 1965 – 01 Aug 1965
  • A Selection of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Cantury Works from the Hunt Foods and Industries Museum of Art Collection
    • Univsersity of California, Irvine 07 Mar 1967 – 22 Mar 1967
    • UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, DAVIS 1967-04- – 1967-04-
    • University of California, Riverside 1967-05- – 1967-05-
    • San Diego Fine Arts Gallery 1967-07- – 1967-08-
  • Selections from the Norton Simon Inc Museum of Art
    • Princeton University Art Museum 1972-12-
  • Genesis of a Gallery 1976-77
    • Art Gallery of South Australia 06 Mar 1976 – 04 Apr 1976
    • Art Gallery of Western Australia 29 Apr 1976 – 20 May 1976
    • Art Gallery, NZV Building, Darwin 19 Jul 1976 – 02 Aug 1976
    • University of Queensland 30 Aug 1976 – 12 Sep 1976
    • Art Gallery of New South Wales 01 Oct 1976 – 24 Oct 1976
    • Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery 27 Jan 1977 – 20 Feb 1977
    • Australian National University 10 Mar 1977 – 03 Apr 1977
    • National Gallery of Victoria 21 Jul 1978 – 20 Aug 1978
  • Arshile Gorky, 1904-1948: A Retrospective
    • Pasadena Art Museum 24 Apr 1981 – 19 Jul 1981
    • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 24 Apr 1981 – 19 Jul 1981
  • Surrealism: Revolution by Night
    • National Gallery of Australia 12 Mar 1993 – 02 May 1993
  • Surrealism: Revolution by Night
    • National Gallery of Australia 12 Mar 1993 – 02 May 1993
    • Queensland Art Gallery 21 May 1993 – 11 Jul 1993
    • Art Gallery of New South Wales 30 Jul 1993 – 19 Sep 1993
  • Abstract Expressionism: the National Gallery of Australia celebrates the centenaries of Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis
    • 14 Jul 2012 – 24 Feb 2013
  • 'The G. David Thompson Collection', Art International vol. 4 no. 9, December 1960, pp. 32–34, illus.;
  • Maurice Tuchman (ed.), The New York School: The first generation, Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society 1965, p. 59, col. illus. pl. 23; revised edition of the original Los Angeles County Museum catalogue of the exhibition The New York School, 1965, also published as The New York School: Abstract Expressionism in the 40s and 50s, London: Thames and Hudson 1970, p. 59, col. illus. pl. 23;
  • Lawrence Alloway, 'The biomorphic Forties', Artforum vol. 4 no. 1, September 1965, pp. 18–24, col. illus.;
  • Julien Levy, Arshile Gorky, New York: Harry N. Abrams 1966, illus. pl. 204;
  • Patrick McCaughey, ‘The modern period and the Australian National Gallery’, Art and Australia vol. 14 nos 3 & 4, January–April 1977, p. 274, illus., p. 276;
  • Genesis of a gallery: Collection of the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service 1976, p. 22, illus.;
  • Jim M. Jordan and Robert Goldwater, The paintings of Arshile Gorky: A critical catalogue, New York and London: New York University Press 1982, pp. 90–91, 507–509, illus.;
  • Laura Murray (ed.), Australian National Gallery,Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1982, p. 26;
  • James Mollison and Laura Murray (eds), Australian National Gallery: An introduction, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1982, pp. 60–61, col. illus.;
  • Melvin P. Lader, Arshile Gorky, New York: Abbeville Press 1985, p. 123, illus.;
  • Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American paintings and sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1992, pp. 216–217, col. illus.;
  • Michael Lloyd, Surrealism: Revolution by night, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia 1993, cat. 120, p. 73, col. illus.

Gorky's paintings were inevitably preceded by a preliminary drawing. He would select from existing drawings, usually done in the warmer months, to use as the basis for a painting or a number of paintings. The drawing, once transferred to the canvas, served as an armature for his colour. The schema would be interpreted freely and could be worked up in a number of interpretations, each being a variation on a theme. Two other works share the same underlying drawing as Plumage landscape:Year after year1947[1] and Theme for Plumage landscape (call for Virginia)1947.[2]

In Plumage landscape, colour is varied around the common linear structure, thereby allowing individual emphasis and interpretation. The oil paint has been thinned to the consistency of watercolour so as to produce washes of pure and transparent colour, which preserve the firm black lines of the drawing and maximise the soft organic fluidity of each colour accent. Viridian elements scattered across the picture plane unite the composition. The daring use of tertiary and pastel hues—pinks, ochres, greys—allows the viewer to concentrate on form as well as colour, and emphasises the painting’s high tonality .

As can also be traced in Mark Rothko’s Untitled watercolour of 1944–46 in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection, the influence of European Surrealist painters was being naturalised by the painters of the New York School, including Gorky. Especially influential were paintings by Joan Miró, seen at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in Manhattan from 1931 onwards, and the Surrealist compositions of Picasso.

Gorky's titles are usually poetic and evocative, rather than descriptive, and the title ‘Plumage landscape’ is a typical creation, which suggestively conflates the iridescence of birds' feathers with the incident of landscape. Ethel Schwabacher, a student of Gorky's in the mid 1940s, referred to the accents of colour as 'plumes' when writing about his work in 1951, and William C. Seitz, in a publication of 1962, claimed the term was Gorky's own.[3] If this is the case, then it may offer some insight into the title of the National Gallery's painting as, literally, a landscape made with aureoles of paint.

Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1992, p. 216, revised Christine Dixon 2012

[1]Ex-collection Mr and Mrs Gifford Phillips, New York

[2] Private collection

[3] See Ethel Schwabacher's introduction to Arshile Gorky memorial exhibition, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art 1951; William C. Seitz first claimed that plumes 'is what Gorky called them' in the catalogue Arshile Gorky: Paintings drawings studies, New York: Museum of Modern Art, Washington DC: Washington Gallery of Modern Art 1962. This claim reappeared in the text that was reprinted for the catalogue for the exhibition at the Tate Gallery, London, Arshile Gorky: Paintings and drawings, Arts Council 1965. Interestingly, in Seitz's dissertation of 1955, Abstract Expressionist painting in America, (Harvard University Press 1983), Seitz attributes the term to Schwabacher.

The National Gallery of Australia holds two oil paintings by Gorky, Untitled 1944 and Plumage landscape 1947.