Unknown Arshile Gorky painting discovered during routine maintenance

A pair of conservators uncovered a lost Arshile Gorky canvas behind a painting on paper by the late Abstract Expressionist during routine maintenance,  Artnet News  reports.

“This discovery is the sort of moment that drew so many of us to art in the first place—the wonder and surprise, the invitation to think beyond what we already know, hints of new horizons,” Marc Payot, president of Hauser and Wirth, which will debut the work in a non-selling exhibition in New York next month, told Artnet News in an email.

The painting, which has been dubbed Untitled (Virginia Summer), is being added to a new Gorky catalogue raisonné, due out this month from the artist’s foundation.

When Gorky finished the painting on paper, The Limit (1947), he was in quite a prolific period, making a new work every day. As a result, it appears he was short on materials, and, lacking a stretched canvas to work on, simply placed it atop the earlier work now identified as Untitled (Virginia Summer).

It’s quite possible that this isn’t the only painting the artist obscured this way. “Curators of museums: It’s not a bad idea to take it out of the basement or off the wall, look behind, and see if you’ve got two paintings instead of one,” Matthew Spender, the artist’s son-in-law and author of From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky, told the New York Times.

Gorky used glue along the edges and kraft paper tape, an adhesive designed for easy removal, to affix The Limit onto the canvas, presumably as a temporary measure. But when the artist died the following year, Virginia Summer stayed covered, lost to art history for over seven decades.

Conservators Michaela Ritter and Olivier Masson of the Swiss restoration studio Masson and Ritter undertook the painstaking work of peeling back The Limit to reveal the painting underneath. They then constructed a new stretcher on which to safely display the delicate work on paper.

“Arshile Gorky. Beyond the Limit” will be on view at Hauser and Wirth, 542 West 22nd Street, New York, November 16–December 23, 2021. 

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