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Details
Cy Twombly (b. 1928)
Untitled
signed and dated 'Cy Twombly Jan. 1970' (on the reverse)
housepaint and wax crayon on paper
27½ x 34¼ in. (69.9 x 87 cm.)
Painted in 1970.
Provenance
Turske & Turske, Zurich
Private collection, United States
Hirschl and Adler Modern, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1998

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Cy Twombly catalogue raisonné of works on paper being prepared by N. Del Roscio.


In 1966 Twombly's style of painting abruptly changed course. Shifting from his unique style of painting that was composed of florid and ornate flourishes of oil paint, wax crayon and pencil flowing across the surface of the canvas, he began to compose a new series of highly rigorous and cerebral works comprising of simple white lines inserted in to a gray monochromatic void. These 'blackboard paintings' are among the most admired works of the artist's career.

Untitled retains Twombly's use of his signature fluid lines, but silhouettes them against a darker background, highlighting the purity of their form and maintaining their integrity by separating them from the heady concoctions that characterize many of his earlier works. The significance Twombly places on the importance of the mark dates back to visits he made to Europe and North Africa during the early 1950s. During these trips he made with Robert Rauschenberg, he became fascinated by the graffiti he encountered inscribed on the walls of ancient monuments and began a lifelong pre-occupation with the connection between man's place in the world and the physical records of his presence.

The ensuing effect of much of Twombly's best work is that of written language stripped of any legible content. The scrawled lines appear to be abstract scribbles, perhaps echoing sound, apparently relating to nothing in particular. Twombly reduced Untitled's lines even further; they no longer resemble any form of symbolic language, instead flowing freely directly from the artist's hand without the need for representational function. However, although spontaneously created, this technique stems from Twombly's attempts to capture visually the seemingly random movement of airwaves and water currents, as well as his study of the experiments of Italian Futurist artists Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni with their abstracted lines of force and motion.

Twombly perfected his expressive, free-flowing lines by spending many nights sitting in the dark, letting his hand draw lines he could not see. This process allowed him to break the connection between the physical mark he had made and the notion that it needed to be representative of anything. Twombly says that his paintings become actual recordings of feeling, emotion, experience, life, rather than depictions or imitations of it. Each line, he says, is, "the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate - it is the sensation of its own realization" (C. Twombly, quoted in "Documenti di una nuova figurazione: Toti Scialoja, Gastone Novelli, Pierre Alechinsky, Achille Perilli, Cy Twombly", in L'Esperienza moderna, no. 2, August-September 1957, p. 32).

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