365 Days of Art: July 18 – Caravaggio Dies, and Gorky’s Wife Writes About Gorky’s Mental State

Caravaggio, The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601

July 18, 1610

Caravaggio dies at age 38; the cause of death is unknown but rumors posthumously swirl around the painter: that he died of syphilis, or malaria, or was killed by one of his many enemies. In 2010, Italian forensic scientists announce that they believe they’ve found Caravaggio’s remains, and that he died of lead poisoning from his paints. He was a notoriously messy painter.

Arshile Gorky in his traction collar. Photo taken by Wilfredo Lam, July 1948 in Sherman CT

July 18, 1948

Agnes [“Mougouch”] Gorky writes to family friends about the deterioration of her marriage, and Gorky’s mental state:

Dear Ethel & Wolf [Schwabacher]

I am sure by now you must have heard something from Gorky and whatever it was it must have been a great shock to you both. I am sorry that I myself can tell you nothing that will lighten your so kind & generous hearts – but only add to the dread weight of this final disaster. That it must be final I know not only from my own heart by now wrung quite bloodless but from the advice of Doctor Weiss. There is everything & nothing to explain for the words look so cold & short & it has been a very long & passionate struggle which I can no longer make especially as there are two hopeful little girls involved…

Gorky’s mental condition is serious, has been for several years and I have been dreadfully wrong in trying to pretend otherwise… At the moment he is in no shape to make any decisions regarding the children nor do I know what we will be able to do with the future, even as to where we should live. I have written our tenant in the studio explaining the necessity of Gorky having it back, if for no other reason to try to establish a sense of continuity in his tormented world & later when I see how things go I must find a job & make a home for the girls… I think in a few days or a week I will take them up to Castine until I can come to some understanding with Gorky… I never conceived of life as easy & that if we failed it was because I had failed – a fatal case of inflation alas, for this thing is far beyond me now, and all his friends with all their warmth & affection can only help him if he can help himself.

Believe me, my heart has been totally engaged even to the exclusion of my instinctive nature and if I could have I would have spared him this but my love was not strong enough I guess.

I shall always be devoted to you & grateful beyond words & thank God I know you love him.

Agnes.

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