The Artist and His Mother

Gorky, Arshile

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary
  • Date of entry: Oct-30-1998
  • Last revised: Dec-19-2001


Two figures confront the viewer: a seated woman and a standing boy. In this double portrait, both woman and boy face outward their positions static and almost hierarchical. The woman sits with her hands resting on her knees; the boy stands by her. The colors are muted, ocher, sepia, pink, grey. Although the pair do not look at each other, emotional connection is conveyed through the way their arms seems to touch.


This painting is a fit companion for Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida; both painting and essay explore a son's rediscovery of his dead mother through a photograph. Gorky found the photograph of him and his mother on which the painting was based after her death. In reworking and reinterpreting the photograph of his childhood self with his then-living mother he invokes her memory.


Painted and reworked 1926-1942.

Primary Source

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.