Agnes Magruder and Arshile Gorky
by Gary Comenas

Arshile Gorky married Agnes Magruder on September 5, 1941 after a courtship lasting less than a year. Gorky's idea of marriage reflected traditional Armenian values. Agnes, however, not having grown up in a small village in Armenia, had a more liberated perspective:

Agnes Magruder:

"I told him that I felt it was quite impossible to be faithful. How one person couldn't be all things to everybody from birth to death. Surely there were all sorts of facets to everybody's personality. When I first went to live with him, I couldn't understand what I'd done. It was all right then because I had a bolt hole. I could go and see my parents or my grandfather on Cape Cod. I could do things, couldn't I? But once I was married, well, he didn't want me to go out any more, working nights or days." (BA319)

Gorky had met Agnes through Willem de Kooning and his then-lover Elaine Fried (later Elaine de Kooning). Agnes had met de Kooning through a woman who rented her a room on East 23rd Street. De Kooning and Elaine took Agnes to a party (around January/February 1941) where they knew Gorky would be, having told Agnes in advance about the interesting Armenican artist. (DK211) According to Gorky biographer, Nouritza Matossian, "They invited both to a party and when the party ended, Gorky found himself sitting opposite a tall woman with black hair. (Bill had enticed him with an introduction to a beautiful blonde.) Gorky asked the woman "Excuse me... are you Miss Magwyda?" "Yes I am" "Will you have a cup of tea?" (BA299)

From Black Angel: The Life of Arshile Gorky by Nouritza Matossian :

"Elaine had decided to pair off Agnes Magruder and Gorky... Agnes had arrived from Shanghai with 'a wardrobe trunk of satin gowns and foxes' which she had given away for 'jeans and the occasional skirt.' Her innate poise impressed Gorky... Agnes had overheard Elaine deplore de Kooning's adulation of Gorky, and her hopes that Bill would stop following him around. The girl might keep Gorky away. It worked. After the meeting which she remembered as being in January or February, Gorky invited Agnes out for dinner. Agnes, it turned out, was starving." (BA300-01)

Agnes Magruder (born June 1, 1921) was the daughter of Captain John Magruder in the U.S. Navy. She had a brother, John and a sister Esther. As a military daughter she lived in various countries - France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and China, and was largely raised by nannies. Gorky's family was considerably poor than the Magruders. His father (in his late 70s) had left the Norwood farm and was working in Milford as a farm hand ("nothing but a slave" according to his grandson Charles). Gorky's half-sister Akabi worked as a midwife and his sister Satenig stitched shoes. Her husband was a garbage collector. (BA323)

Prior to meeting Gorky, Agnes had been sent to a Swiss finishing school by her mother who hoped she would become a diplomat's wife. Agnes had other ideas. She had fallen in love with art. She left her family (then stationed in Shanghai) and moved to Iowa City. She was under the impression that Grant Wood was there and that she would be able to study painting under him. When she found out that he wasn't there, she took a bus to New York and enrolled at the Art Students' League at the age of nineteen. She supported herself with a $100 a month allowance provided by her family. (BA301) Her parents cut off her allowance when they found out that she was working as a volunteer for China Today, a Communist magazine with offices around the corner from Willem de Kooning's studio.

After meeting Gorky, she eventually moved in with him. A friend of Agnes recalled, "Since she had come to New York determined to be 200 per cent bohemian, what could be more shocking than to take up with a man twice her age, an artist and a foreigner at that?" (BA302)

Gorky took her to meet his friends and patrons - the Schwabachers, the Muschenheims, the Sandows and later, to see his murals at the Riviera Nightclub, with Isamu Noguchi. (She couldn't acutally see the murals because it was so dark.) He also showed her his World's Fair mural. (BA303) He called her Mogooch (or "Mougouch" which she thought meant Mickey Mouse). It was also the nickname for Gorky's brother-in-law, his nephew and his cat. (BA303)

Agnes later recalled that Gorky studied art books (exhibition catalogues) and a book on painting materials by Max Doerner that Gorky read "like somebody mad about reading recipes. How Titian created a Titian and all the techniques he mastered." (BA304) In one art book he owned on Islamic minatures Gorky had handwitten the words "The Divil Take You!" with an arrow pointing to the price - $2.50. (BA304) Agnes could speak French fluently and was able to translate Cahiers d'Art for him. She also recalled that he kept a large copy of Ingres' self- portrait hung upside down on his studio wall. (BA304)

Gorky's strong feelings for Agnes Magruder are apparent from a letter he wrote to her when she was away, visiting her family:

Arshile Gorky [from a letter to Agnes Magruder]:

"I am blessed in being able to love you, blessed be the day when the great sun guided me to you. Without you, love, I should have been flung into an outer darkness, where bones rot, and where man is subject to the same law as beasts - final destruction, the humiliation of extinction... Goodnight, dear heart, sweet - sister, mother. Think that we are together in the same bed" (BA307)

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