Arshile Gorky

Art on This Day


Arshile Gorky, an Armenian-born American painter, died on 21 July 1948. Gorky had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism and spent most of his life as a national of the United States. Along with Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Gorky has been hailed as one of the most powerful American painters of the twentieth century. As such, his works were often speculated to have been informed by the suffering and loss he experienced in the Armenian Genocide.


In 1908 his father emigrated to America to avoid the draft, leaving his family behind in the town of Van, Turkey. In 1915 Gorky fled Lake Van during the Armenian Genocide and escaped with his mother and his three sisters into Russian-controlled territory. However, in the aftermath of the genocide, Gorky’s mother died of starvation in Yerevan in 1919. Arriving in America in 1920, the 16-year-old Gorky was reunited with his father, but they never grew close.


The painting The Artist and his Mother (ca. 1926–1936, right) is testimony to how much the Armenian Genocide anguished the artist. The artwork is inspired by a photograph (left) taken at a studio in Van before 1912, which was aimed to be sent to Gorky’s absent father. Gorky worked at the painting for ten years, yet left it unfinished.