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The Plough and the Song

Abstract painting with soft shapes of brown, pink, yellow, red.
© 2018 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Abstract painting with soft shapes of brown, pink, yellow, red.




Arshile Gorky
American, born Ottoman Empire (Present Day Turkey) c.1904–1948

About this artwork

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.


On View, Gallery 398


Contemporary Art


Arshile Gorky


The Plough and the Song


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on canvas


No inscriptions.


134.2 × 155.7 cm (51 7/8 × 61 3/8 in.)

Credit Line

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis L. Coburn Fund

Reference Number



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

Extended information about this artwork

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