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The Liver Is the Cock's Comb

© Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

© Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

© Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Image downloads are for educational use only. For all other purposes, please see our Obtaining and Using Images page.

Arshile Gorky

American, born Khorkom, Turkish Armenia (now Turkey), 1904-1948

The Liver Is the Cock's Comb, 1944

oil on canvas

support: 73 1/4 x 98 3/8 inches (186.055 x 249.8725 cm); framed: 75 3/16 x 100 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches (190.98 x 254.95 x 6.99 cm)

Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1956

K1956:4

Currently On View

More Details

Inscriptions

signature, dated / upper left / A. Gorky 44

Provenance

the artist;
collection Jean Lamson Hebbeln;
Sidney Janis Gallery;
sold to the Albright Art Gallery, March 13, 1956

Class

Paintings (visual works)

Work Type

Oil painting (visual work)

This information may change due to ongoing research. Glossary of Terms

Audio Stop for Picasso: The Artist and His Models

Verbal Description Audio

Arshile Gorky

The Liver is the Cock’s Comb

Oil on canvas, made in 1944

This painting is about six feet tall by eight feet wide. It is comprised of vibrant, energetic colors that exist in distinctive organic shapes. The colors that dominate this work are warm shades of red and orange, light creamy yellow, earthy brown hues, as well as cool, pale blues and whites. This description will move from the bottom to the top.

The largest portion of one color, dirt brown, exists in the bottom third. Moving from left to right the brown shifts from medium, for a small section just right of center. Then, a light brown that turns dark in the bottom right hand corner. On top of the brown, just left of center, a bright yellow tapered rectangle extends vertically. This same color exists in a handful of places and only defined by the changing of color, there is no outline.

On either side of this yellow a pale blue is applied thinly over the brown. The artist’s loose, fluid brushstrokes are clearly apparent in this blue section. Many of the white, pale blue, grey white, and light tan sections throughout the upper two thirds share a similar texture. These think layers of pale light colors often reveal darker earth tones underneath. These sections show the artist’s individual brushstrokes to be unified by share no directional pattern.

The middle third of the painting is different in that it houses the greatest contrast of color. We see chunks of pure white, black, dark brown, blood red, fleshy pink, cool blues, mustard yellow, and emerald green. There are black lines that help define certain spaces of color. Some of these black lines seem to sit on top of several different colors as though these lines could be the very top layer. As the title, The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, may suggest there are several phallic shapes primarily in the center.

In 1941, Gorky married his second wife Agnes Magruder (American, 1921–2013), whose parents owned a farm in Virginia. This pastoral setting inspired the creation of “The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb,” which reflects both the artist’s physical surroundings as well as his memories of the gardens of his homeland.

By means of his unique approach to color and form, Arshile Gorky aimed to communicate both his painful childhood experience of the Armenian Genocide and the close affinity he felt with nature, especially the landscape. In 1920, Gorky fled to the United States, where he remained for the rest of his life. He settled in New York City, where avant-garde artists from both the United States and Europe converged during the 1940s, and his work directly reflects this cultural and historical milieu. In addition, Gorky and many of his contemporaries were fascinated by other cultures—past and present—especially their myths, legends, and spiritual beliefs.

In 1941, Gorky married his second wife Agnes Magruder (American, 1921–2013), whose parents owned a farm in Virginia. This pastoral setting inspired the creation of The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb, which reflects both the artist’s physical surroundings as well as his memories of the gardens of his homeland. The complexities and contradictions Gorky felt were present in his own life are built into the layers of this painting. Its title can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In the ancient world, the liver symbolized the soul and passion of the artist. “Cock” can refer to a rooster and is also slang for “penis.” However, “cock’s comb” (or “coxcomb”) is simultaneously a term for a flowering plant, a jester’s cap, and a fool. In ancient Greek mythology, a rooster was sacrificed to the well-endowed Priapus, the god of nature and fertility. Although there are clear allusions to female and male genitalia in the work, overall Gorky’s forms are indefinable.

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