Arshile Gorky

The Artist and His Mother
1926–c. 1936

Not on view

1926–c. 1936


Oil on canvas

Overall: 60 × 50 1/4in. (152.4 × 127.6 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Julien Levy for Maro and Natasha Gorky in memory of their father

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


This portrait of Arshile Gorky and his mother is based on a photograph taken in his native Armenia in 1912, when the artist was just a child. Three years later, during the Ottoman Turk campaign of genocide against the Armenians, Gorky, his mother, and his younger sister all survived a death march, but his mother never recovered her health. She died in 1919 from starvation. The following year, the fifteen-year-old Gorky immigrated to the United States with his sister. In 1926, he began work on this and another version now in the National Gallery of Art. Gorky, however, did not simply copy the photograph, but painted a meditation on remembrance: the white apron worn by Gorky’s mother makes her appear statue-like, and other areas of the painting seem, like memory itself, unfinished and mutable. The figures’ searching gazes lend the composition psychological intensity, eliciting sympathy yet avoiding outright pathos or sentimentality.