Selected by Ray Waterhouse

ARSHILE GORKY, Still Life (Red and Yellow), 1930


Still Life (Red and Yellow) is a rare example of Gorky’s work from the early 1930s, a work that reflects his experiments with Synthetic Cubism. Inspired by Picasso, whose work was an important influence on his own unique style, Gorky explored the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane. Realized in bright primary colors and shades of sienna, green and grey, this work presents each object from a flattened, singular point of view, suggesting their arrangement in space through a series of overlapping layers. Illustrating an artist’s palette and model head, Gorky indicates that this is a painting about painting itself. The vibrant fruit arrangement similarly situates Still Life (Red and Yellow) within a long line of artistic experimentation, the still life being a favored format for the interrogation of space, colour and form. 


Gorky immigrated to the United States from his native Armenia in 1920, following the devastation wrought by the Armenian Genocide.  He settled in New York in 1924 and established a prominent position in the city’s art scene. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, he came into contact with several members of the Surrealist group, who had been forced to flee Europe during the Second World War. His close friendships with the poet André Breton and the Chilean-born painter Roberto Matta contributed to the development of his mature style, encouraging Gorky to improvise and experiment with biomorphic forms, and introducing the artist to the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing.


Pioneering a language of biomorphic forms in American art, in which curves and arabesques convey the rhythm of organic life, Gorky’s Surrealist experiments were a significant moment in the development of Abstract Expressionism in America in the 1940s. His pivotal role is highlighted in Abstract Expressionism, currently on view at the Royal Academy London, which dedicates an entire room to Gorky’s work. 


Gorky’s work can be found in numerous major collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Tate Gallery and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.


ARSHILE GORKY Armenian-American (1904-1948)     

Still Life (Red and Yellow)

Signed & dated 1930; signed & dated again on reverse 

Oil on linen

29 x 41 in / 73.5 x 104 cm


This work is recorded in the Arshile Gorky Foundation Archives under number ML1516



The artist

Boyer Galleries, New York (c. 1935-1938)

Lawrence M.C. Smith, Washington, DC (acquired from the above in 1938)

Private collection, Pennsylvania (acquired from the above in 1981) 



October 27, 2020