Arshile Gorky. The Leaf of the Artichoke Is an Owl. 1944

Arshile Gorky

The Leaf of the Artichoke Is an Owl


Oil on canvas
28 x 35 7/8" (71.1 x 91.2 cm)
Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund
Object number
© 2016 Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Painting and Sculpture
This work is not on view.
Arshile Gorky has 19 works online.
There are 2,244 paintings online.

André Breton, the leader of the Surrealist group, assigned this work its title based on a meal he shared with Gorky, during which Breton associated an artichoke leaf with an owl. Both artists were members of the European artistic avant-garde living in exile in New York during World War II. Gorky's interest in unpremeditated or automatic gestures was aided by his use of thin, liquid paint, which he poured onto the canvas, allowing it to seep freely into the support. The shapes in this painting, while vaguely recognizable, never fully describe any one thing and therefore encourage free association— a mainstay of Surrealist intellectual activities.

Gallery label from 2007

Provenance Research Project
This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
Harold Diamond, New York. Until 1977
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased from Harry Diamond with funds from Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund, 1977

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