Arshile Gorky - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Estate of the Artist
    Private Collection (acquired from the above)
    Sotheby's, New York, May 16, 2007, lot 125
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Santa Fe, Gerald Peters Gallery; Dallas, Gerald Peters Gallery; New York, Gerald Peters Gallery; Youngstown, The Butler Institute of American Art, Arshile Gorky: Three Decades of Drawings, September 22 - May 5, 1991, no. 12, p. 33 (illustrated)
    Los Angeles, Louis Newman Galleries, Arshile Gorky: Drawings, February 14 - March 5, 1991
    Los Angeles, Manny Silverman Gallery, Arshile Gorky: Drawings, January 9 - March 1, 1997

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed circa 1930-1932, Study for Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia is a striking example from a formative period during Arshile Gorky’s career. During the early 1930s, Gorky produced a significant body of drawings, resulting in one of his most celebrated series, Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia, to which the present lot belongs. In this body of work, the artist used drawing as a means of furthering the art of his epoch—Gorky was a talented autodidact, honing his technique by spending hours in New York City’s museums and voraciously reading in libraries. In the present work, Gorky explores the potential of crosshatching and shading to create a lively composition in which recognizable imagery is transformed into suggestive biomorphic forms. Small ovular shapes identifiable as eyes and mouths reference Max Ernst’s Surrealist works of the late 1920s, while the negative space in the drawing becomes flattened bodies, likened to the exaggerated organic forms employed by Pablo Picasso in his post-Cubist works. The effect is a composition that is simultaneously energetic and melancholic—indeed, Gorky stated after completing the Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia series that his inspiration came from “wounded birds, poverty, and one whole week of rain.” (Arshile Gorky, quoted in Hayden Herrera, Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work, New York, 2003, p. 192)

    Despite his untimely death, Gorky’s position in the art historical canon is indisputable. As Diane Waldman explained of the artist’s short career,—“he reached his artistic maturity several years before his friends and colleagues of the future New York School, and introduced a complex set of ideas and problems he did not live to resolve.” (Diane Waldman, “Arshile Gorky: Poet in Paint”, in Carol Fuerstein ed., Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1981, p. 60) Thus Study for Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia is emblematic of Gorky’s negotiation of the art of his time, and represents a precursor to the Abstract Expressionist works that he later inspired.


Study for Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia

ink on paper
19 x 24 in. (48.3 x 61 cm.)
Executed circa 1930-1932.

This work is catalogued in the Arshile Gorky Foundation Archives as AGF #D0162.

$100,000 - 150,000 

Contact Specialist
John McCord
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New York
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018