Gorky in the NGA “Double” exhibit

Although Arshile Gorky is included in the book Abstract Painting: Concepts and Techniques for his abstract work, it is interesting to spotlight an important series of representational works he produced. Within the National Gallery of Art’s themed show, “ The Double: Identity and Difference in Art since 1900“, there are two compositions that reveal deeply held feelings the artist had for his mother. Both are entitled The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926–c. 1942), they derive from a photo he had.


The first version
The second version



James Meyer in Artnet has a detailed reading of these works in the context of the NGA exhibit:

the paintings were both begun after the exiled artist discovered the photo in his father’s house sometime after his arrival in the United States in 1920. The year before, Shushan had died in Gorky’s arms, a victim of the Turkish government’s genocidal policies toward its Christian Armenian citizens.  … We may never know why Gorky painted this extraordinarily affecting image twice, which canvas he began first, or whether the National Gallery portrait is unfinished. We know that the Whitney painting was a talisman for the artist, who displayed the work in his studio and altered the composition many times, and that he was still at work on the National Gallery canvas as late as 1942. 

Additionally, John Strand of NGA, has a blog post focussing on the two Gorky portraits, stating

Around 1926 Gorky began a first version of The Artist and His Mother. Completed in 1936, it is now in the Whitney Museum of American Art. He later began a second version. He would work on this canvas, now in the National Gallery’s collection, intermittently until at least 1942.


The NGA exhibit closes October 31, 2022.