Born in Turkey in 1904, Vosdanik Adoian escaped the massacres of Armenians in 1915 only to watch his mother die of starvation, his sister abandoned to an orphanage (where she disappeared), and his remaining family scattered in their flight from the Turks. Arriving with another sister in Massachusetts, in 1920, Adoian invented the pseudonym Arshile Gorky - and obliterated his past. Claiming to be a distant cousin of the novelist Maxim Gorky, trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, he found work as an art teacher, moved to New York, and meanwhile undertook a program of rigorous, solitary study, schooling himself in the modern painters he most admired, especially Cezannes and Picasso. By the thirties Gorky was recognized as a leader by Willem de Kooning and David Smith, among others, but it was only in 1939 that he entered his most fruitful period and developed the style known as Abstract Surrealism. His masterpieces - enigmatic works that both baffled viewers and moved them to tears - established Gorky's genius, and influenced the great generation of postwar American painters, even as Gorky faced a series of personal catastrophes. Hayden Herrera's biography is the first to interpret Gorky's work in depth. The result of more than three decades of scholarship - and a lifelong engagement with Gorky's paintings - ARSHILE GORKY traces the progress from apprentice to master of the man Andre Breton called 'the most important painter in American history'.