Lot 42
  • 42

Arshile Gorky

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Arshile Gorky
  • Study for The Betrothal 
  • pencil, charcoal, pastel and wax crayon on burlap paper 
  • 49 3/4 by 40 1/8 in. 126.4 by 102 cm.
  • Executed in 1947.


The artist 
Jeanne Reynal, New York 
Julien Levy, Connecticut 
Private Collection, Glencoe, Illinois
Private Collection, New York
Ben Heller, New York
Private Collection
Christie's, New York, November 15, 2006, lot 49
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Drawings for Principal Paintings by Gorky, September - October 1955 
Venice, XXXI Biennale Internazionale d'Arte, Arshile Gorky, September - October 1962, no. 68 
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; New Orleans, Newcomb College, Tulane University;  Pittsburgh, Chatham College; Nashville, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film; Joplin, Missouri, Spiva Art Center; Northampton, Massachusetts, Smith College Museum of Art; Huntington, West Virginia, Marshall College; Tokyo, Seibu Gallery, Seibu Department Store; LeMars, Iowa, Westmar College; St. Louis, Washington University; Chicago, Arts Club of Chicago; Bloomington, Indiana University; Aurora, New York, Wells College; DeKalb, Illinois, Northern Illinois University; New York, The Jewish Museum; Karlsruhe, Badischer Kunstverein; Hamburg, Hamburger Kunstverein; Berlin, Amerika Haus; Essen, Museum Folkwang; York, City Art Gallery; London, Institute of Contemporary Arts; Nottingham, Midland Group Gallery; Bristol, City Art Gallery; Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Vienna, Museum des 20 Jahrhunderts; Lisbon, Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes; Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus; Lund, Lunds Konsthall; Basel, Öffentliche Kunstmuseum; Zagreb, Galerija Grada Zagreba; Belgrade, Galerija Doma Omladine; Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna; Buenos Aires, Centro de Artes Visuales del Instituto Torcuato di Tella; Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes; Bogatà, Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango; and Mexico City, Galeria Universitaria Aristos, Arshile Gorky Drawings, December 1962-June 1968, p. 42, no. 103, illustrated
London, The Arts Council of Great Britain, Tate Gallery, Arshile Gorky: Paintings and Drawings, April-May 1965, no. 86
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Gorky: Drawings, November - December 1969, no. 142, p. 52, illustrated and p. 61 (text)
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Drawings by Five Abstract Expressionist Painters: Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, January-February 1976
Chicago, The University of Chicago, The David and Alfred Smart Gallery, Abstract Expressionism: A Tribute to Harold Rosenberg Paintings and Drawings from Chicago Collections, October - November 1979, no. 13, p. 47 (text)
New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art; New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery; and Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Collection in Context: Gorky's Betrothals, October 1993 - January 1994
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; and Houston, The Menil Collection, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective Drawings, November 2003 - May 2004, p. 77, no. 30, illustrated in color
Philadelphia Museum of Art; London, Tate Modern; and Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 2009 - September 2010, p. 334, no. 171, illustrated in color


Exh. Cat., New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Paintings by Arshile Gorky from 1929-1948, 1962, n.p., illustrated (in installation at Sidney Janis Gallery, October 1955) 
Harold Rosenberg, Arshile Gorky: The Man, the Time, the Idea, New York, 1962, p. 109, illustrated
Julien Levy, Arshile Gorky, New York, 1966, n.p., no. 177, illustrated 
William S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, New York, 1968, p. 398, fig. 414, illustrated
Eliza Rathbone, "Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song," American Art at Mid-Century: The Subjects of the Artist, Washington, D.C., 1978, p. 71, fig. 17, illustrated
Harry Rand, Arshile Gorky: The Implications of Symbols, London and Montclair, 1980, p. 162, fig. 10-11, illustrated 


This work is in very good condition overall. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Alan Firkser of Paper Conservation Studio, Inc. The sheet is framed in a gilded wood frame under Plexiglas.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

"Drawing is the basis of art. A bad painter cannot draw. But one who draws well can always paint. Drawing gives the artist the ability to control his line and hand. It develops in him the precision of line and touch. This is the path towards a masterwork" -Arshile Gorky (Arshile Gorky quoted in Karen Mooradian, Arshile Gorky Adoian, Chicago, 1978, p. 276)   


Executed in 1947 at the peak of Arshile Gorky’s success and the year prior to his tragic and premature death, Study for Betrothal is a fully realized and extraordinarily accomplished study for one of the most cerebral and captivating compositions of Gorky’s celebrated artistic career. Having fled the Armenian Genocide, in 1920 Gorky arrived in New York where he found himself utterly inspired. Now in his purview, the art and intellectual discourse of the city prompted Gorky to engulf himself in a self education of the history and practice of his peers and artists he delighted in, such as Wassily Kandinsky. As a primarily self-taught artist, Gorky was academic in the study of his predecessors and, with the emergence of Surrealism onto the New York art scene in the 1940s, Gorky discovered yet another exciting approach from which to be inspired. Stimulated by the free flowing and ethereal qualities associated with the surrealist practice, in Study for Betrothal Gorky at once references the work of artists such as Marcel Duchamp, while succinctly departing from their automatism to create a style undeniably his own. Indeed, as then Director of the Whitney Museum Lloyd Goodrich said in 1951 shortly following the death of the artist, “[Gorky] never imitated the mere mannerisms, the superficial characteristics of the artists he admired. Always he strove for an understanding of the fundamental elements of their work, and there was nothing coldly intellectual in his use of others’ art. His own artistic nature was rich, so deeply sensuous, so healthily physical, so much in love with pigment and color, line and form that everything he touched, even in his most obviously influenced works, was himself." (Lloyd Goodrich quoted in Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Arshile Gorky, New York, 1966, p. 16) This inimitable style solidified Gorky’s output as the bridge between the New York School and European modernism and in turn paved the way for the Abstract Expressionism, which would alter the course of artistry in the post-war period.

Lyrical in its structure, lines float across the space of the composition to create the elegant and deliberate presentation of the sensual biomorphic forms of Study for Betrothal. Latent lines of the broadly anatomical figures are reinforced in soft pencil, and accents of delicate robin’s egg blue are used to suggestively highlight the bulging and recessing forms, intensifying the rhythmic dance of the figures across the canvas. A precursor to three major oil paintings which reside in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Study for Betrothal is one of the most formalized of the artist’s drawings. In the words of the artist, “Drawing is the basis of art… Drawing gives the artist the ability to control his line and hand. It develops in him the precision of line and touch. This is the path towards a masterwork.” (Arshile Gorky quoted in Karen Mooradian, Arshile Gorky Adoian, Chicago, 1978, p. 276)

While Study for the Betrothal and its resulting paintings elude simple explanation, Gorky’s persistent approach to the title subject suggests a focus on sexuality and conjugal relations, perhaps encouraged by the volatile relationship with his second wife Agnes Magruder at that time. Certainly, the mystery in the paintings was not unintentional, and calls upon the viewer to decipher for themselves the intricacies of the narratives of marital life presented – both the good and the bad. As such, not only is it a mesmerizing work but also a deeply personal creation.


This work is recorded in the Arshile Gorky Foundation Archives under number D1492.