About This Artwork

Arshile Gorky
American, born Armenia (present-day Turkey), 1904–1948

The Plough and the Song, 1946–47

Oil on canvas
134.2 x 155.7 cm (51 7/8 x 61 3/8 in.)
No inscriptions.

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis L. Coburn Fund, 1963.208

© 2018 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Born in Turkish Armenia, Arshile Gorky immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and became an influential member of the New York art scene. Profoundly interested in avant-garde European art, he experimented with a variety of styles. Young artists working in New York were particularly stimulated by the European Surrealists, many of whom moved to the city before and during World War II and whose circle Gorky joined. The 1940s, especially the years 1944–47, marked the creation of his most important work, produced in a kind of stream of consciousness or “automatic” manner of painting. The Plough and the Song reflects the artist’s indebtedness to the lyrical Surrealism of Joan Miró, but the sketchy handling of paint, translucent color, and tumbling pile of shapes are hallmarks of Gorky’s mature work. A delicate contour line delineates the biomorphic forms in the center of the composition, in marked contrast to the loose brushwork that defines the background. The title signals Gorky’s nostalgia for his heritage, as the artist wrote in 1944: “You cannot imagine the fertility of forms that leap from our Armenian plows. . . . And the songs, our ancient songs of the Armenian people, our suffering people. . . . So many shapes, so many shapes and ideas, happily a secret treasure to which I have been entrusted the key.” Deeply earthbound and poetic, The Plough and the Song is at once a still life, a landscape, and a fantasy.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, “Arshile Gorky: Memorial Exhibition,” January 5–February 18, 1951, cat. 51, as “The Plow and the Song.”

Princeton, New Jersey, The Art Museum, Princeton University, “Arshile Gorky: A Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings,”1952, no. 22.

New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, “Arshile Gorky in the Final Years,”1953, no.10, as “The Plough and the Song II.”

New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, “Gorky,” December 2– 28, 1957, cat. 25 (ill.), as “The Plow & the Song II.”

London, Arts Council, Tate Gallery, “Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings,”April 2– May 2, 1965, no. 93, as “The Plough and the Song II”

Philadelphia, The Peale Galleries, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, “Paintings and Drawings by Arshile Gorky,” November 9–December 10, 1967, cat. 3, as “The Plough and the Song II.”

New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, “Acquisition Priorities: Aspects of Postwar Painting in America, Including Arshile Gorky: Works 1944 – 1948,” October 15, 1976–January 16, 1977, cat. 3 (ill.), as “The Plow and the Song II.”

New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, “Arshile Gorky1904 - 1948: A Retrospective,” April 24–July 19, 1981, cat. by Diane Waldman, 203 (ill.), as “The Plough and the Song No. 2.”

Nagaoka, Japan, Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, "Masterworks of Modern Art from The Art Institute of Chicago," April 20–May 29, 1994, cat. 61; traveled to Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, June 10–July 24, 1994, Yokohama, Yokohama Museum of Art, August 6–September 25, 1994, as “The Plow and the Song.”

Publication History

William C. Seitz, “Arshile Gorky: Paintings, Drawings, Studies”(Museum of Modern Art, 1962), pp. 45–47, 56 (ill.), as “The Plough and the Song.”

“The Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report 1962-63”(Art Institute of Chicago, 1963), p. 15, as “The Plough and the Song #2.”

“The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 4, 1963-1964”(Art Institute of Chicago, 1964), pp. 6, 7 (ill.), as “The Plough and the Song #2.”

Julien Levy, Arshile Gorky, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1966), pp. 21, 31, 36, pl. 183, (ill.), as “The Plow and the Song II.”

Charles C. Cunningham, “Instituto de Art de Chicago”(Editorial Codex, S. A. Madrid, Spain, 1967), p. 80 (color ill.), as “El arado y la cancion II.”

John Maxon, “The Art Institute of Chicago”(Harry N. Abrams, 1970), p. 274 (ill.), as “The Plough and the Song No. 2.”

Robert F. Reiff, “A Stylistic Analysis of Arshile Gorky’s Art from 1943 - 1948”, (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1977), p. 357, cat. 79 (ill.), as “The Plow and the Song (wolf version).”

Jim M Jordan and Robert Goldwater, “The Paintings of Arshile Gorky: A Critical Catalogue” (New York and London: New York University Press, 1982), pp. 89–91, 103, 481, cat. 315 (ill.), as “The Plough and the Song II.”

James N. Wood and Katharine C. Lee, “Master Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago” (1988; 2nd printing, Art Institute of Chicago/New York Graphic Society Books and Little, Brown and Company, 1991), pp. 146 (color ill.), 166.

James N. Wood and Teri J. Edelstein, “Master Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago” (Art Institute of Chicago/Hudson Hills Press, 1996), pp. 92 (color ill.), 159, as “The Plow and the Song.”

Nouritza Matossian, “Black Angel: A Life of Arshile Gorky”(London: Chatto & Windus, 1998), p. 425.

“Arshile Gorky: Hommage”(Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2007), p. 92, as “The Plough and the Song II.”

Ownership History

Estate of the artist. Mr. and Mrs. Stanley J. Wolf, Great Neck, New York, by 1962.
Sold, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, to the Art Institute of Chicago, 1963.

Interpretive Resources

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