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Margaret Lefranc and Arshile Gorky

“In Paris in the beginning, I didn’t study with anyone in particular.  My parents didn’t know what to do with me. I had done…expressionistic paintings in greens and blues, such as Self-Portrait in Green (1923), that were very unusual for someone that age. So, my father and mother took me to a well-known sculptor—of all things, not a painter—to ask…what schools to put me into. He told them that I would do better by developing my own talent, that I had a special vision…and he recommended an open school like the Academie de la Grande Chaumier…They had classes for painting, drawing, sketching…You would pay…and you could sit in a class. There was a model. Some were dressed. Some were nude…We had three- or four-hour sessions at a time. I would spend about six to nine hours a day drawing…The classical training I had was the training I got there. The emotional painting that I did was a direct result of my contact with the Expressionists painters of Germany. If I hadn’t grown up in Europe, I imagine I would have gone a different route, influenced by the American artists of that particular period, mostly of the Ashcan School.” [1] It was an artistic movement which portrayed scenes of daily life in New York especially in the poor areas during the early twentieth century.

Lefranc met Arshile Gorky [2] after she opened the Guild Art Gallery in 1935. She decided to give the artist a solo show after visiting his studio, where she saw his masterpiece The Artist and his Mother: “I remember going into his studio and seeing a huge portrait of his mother and himself as a boy. It was so beautiful in its stillness and in the paint quality. I was…bowled over by the beauty… and I accepted him into the gallery.” [3]  "When I got him…He was very poor. I gave him his first one-man exhibition of drawings in New York.” [4]  Following the opening of this exhibition, Abstract Drawings by Arshile Gorky, Emily Genauer wrote in the New York World Telegram on December 21, 1935: “The Gorky show at the Guild is bound to be a Storm Center. It will be a surprise to learn that while he never had a one-man exhibition in New York, he has shown with groups at most of the city’s important galleries.“ [5]

Margaret frequently treated Gorky to a meal at the legendary Luchow’s while she afforded herself only coffee or tea.  While Gorky shared his dramatic personal background, Margaret wondered about some of its veracity, but she listened while he devoured food. At one lunch, he sketched a small drawing on both sides of a paper napkin that Margaret saved but decades later auctioned at Sotheby’s when she needed a new roof on her home in Nambe, New Mexico. 

Lefranc eventually allowed Gorky, for his own good, to break his contract with her after Julien Levy, a prominent gallerist, approached her. She later recalled the conversation: “Look, you have a contract with Gorky…I can give Gorky twenty-five dollars a week on which he can live. 'You can’t do that,' he said. Of course, I couldn’t. I was living on a shoe string. I supported myself, ran the gallery on that, and I had a car. That was in 1935. I could live, pay my rent, and eat. Levy could support and exhibit Gorky in his gallery." [6] While Julien Levy did give Gorky a certain amount of money after the artist left the Guild Art Gallery, what Lefranc didn’t know was that Levy did not formally give Gorky a contract until the end of 1944, almost a decade later. Lefranc died in 1998 still thinking, “Thus Julien Levy made Gorky’s career.” [7] A culmination of disastrous events frustrated Gorky, and in 1948 he committed suicide by hanging. Margaret was saddened for a long time.

This drawing, Untitled (Portrait of a Man) (mid 1930s, pencil on paper), published in Arshile Gorky: Drawings from the Thirties [8]is thought by Sandra McKenzie to have been drawn during the time Gorky was an exhibitor at the Guild Art Gallery since it is dated in the mid-thirties. Based on photographs from the 1940s, the man in the drawing is thought to be Harold Rosenberg [9], a New York art critic and author.


[1] TAPE 2, Interview with Sandra McKenzie, for intended Margaret Lefranc biography or autobiography.

[2] Arshile Gorky, (conflicting birth dates from 1902-1904 and died 1948) born in Dilkaya, Lake Van in the Ottoman Empire. Arrived in America in 1920.

[3] Michael Koster, January 2, 1997, article in Pasatiempo, January 17-23, 1997, re:  St. John’s College Exhibition, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

[4] Margaret Lefranc interview with Tracey Dingman of Albuquerque Journal, Arts, Section C5, January 12, 1997, Albuquerque, New Mexico..

[5] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging: The Art of Margaret Lefranc, Nouveau Ventures © Margaret Lefranc Art Foundation, p.112, published 2007.

[6] Interview with Koster, pg. 113, Op. cit.

[7] Lois Katz, A Lifetime of Imaging:  The Art of Margaret Lefranc, pg.113 quoting Michael Koster, January 2, 1997, article in Pasatiempo, Op.cit

[8] Melissa Kerr, Arshile Gorky: Drawings from the Thirties. Brussels: Patrick Derom Gallery, Brussels, 2014.

[9] Harold Rosenberg (1906-1978) was the author of Arshile Gorky: The Man, the Time, the Idea, 1962.

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