Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
Property from an American Collection
Cy Twombly (1928-2011)


Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
signed and dated 'Cy Twombly 1971' (on the reverse)
oil-based house paint and wax crayon on paper
27 1/2 x 39 1/8 in. (69.9 x 99.4 cm.)
Executed in 1971.
Galleria Lorenzelli, Milan
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 2 May 1995, lot 28
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
F. Gualdoni, Arte a Roma 1945-1980, Milan, 1988, p. 97 (illustrated).
N. Del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings, Catalogue Raisonné Volume 5, 1970-1971, New York, 2015, p. 182, no. 204 (illustrated in color).
Milan, Galleria dell'Ariete, Cy Twombly, October-November 1971.

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

The delicate marks that Cy Twombly choreographs across the surface of Untitled distill a performance so subtle and so personal that looking deeply into this work seems almost like an invasion of a private, nearly hermetic world. Yet the sensuousness nature of his mark-making, of the whitened wax crayon coursing across the surface, the almost chiaroscuro effect of light against dark draws one in. Crisscrossing diagonal striations create a dense network of infinite iterations forming X’s and V’s, a hint of the visual language that comes of scriptural markings. Nearly cancelled by the sweeping curve of repeated horizontal gestures the effect is that of an ominous rain clouds releasing torrents of rain. Drawings are generally prized for their proximity to the authorial hand, to the first moments of conception and its realization. Yet, here we feel the artist has never quite left the scene, never really relinquished the paper on which a layer of oil-based house paint has received its incisions. More startling is the sense of ongoing gesture, as if these marks extend infinitely into the surrounding space. Notice the atmospheric mist that settles in the interstices, made of course by a finger or rag, for what purpose, but to further entice even as the surface resists understanding. Whether a landscape, sky-scape, or merely what it is, wax marks on gray painted ground, what is clear is that Untitled is an impression—of the wax crayon, of the specific artist sensibility at play, of the viewer’s own projection of experience.

No artist of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has given such dynamic meaning to the nature of the line. Its expressive force comes in part from the affect of flattened line that is given mass and volume by means of perceptual spatial ambiguity. White against black suggests image and ground, projection and recession, such that it seems shadows enclose each line, lending brightness, and now shading to create a sense of perspectival recession. Twombly adds to this sense of an undulating surface by the billowing form these lines assume. From upper left to lower right, lines expand and contract in sympathy with the implied diagonal of the lateral expanse. A classic demonstration of elemental relationships, Twombly’s schematic form conveys a poetic sense of motion within a world of stillness and calm.

The point of departure for Twombly’s painting is the allover painting and gestural physicality of Abstract Expressionists painters, in particular Jackson Pollock, who freed line from contour and contour from shape. Lines came to be merely that—lines that control the entire surface from edge to edge. Twombly, too, is engaged in a strategy common to other painters of his generation and that is the notion of “deskilling,” of unlearning traditional drawing techniques in order that a certain kinetic immediacy can be effected. From the year 1957, in which he settled more or less permanently in Rome, Twombly absorbed the Continental version of Abstract Expressionism—in Italy called Informale—from artists such as Roberto Crippa, who explored the implication of graffiti-like actions that emphasized the processes of deskilled drawing and the materiality of their surfaces. The present work—as much a study in light-dark contrast as in the propulsive force of fierce repetition—could have used Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Rain, Steam, and Speed—The Great Western Railway created in 1844 as its template. In the same way that diagonal striations descend from whirling cloud formations, so too, Twombly’s visual imagery mimes this natural force made luminous in by alternations of thick and thin lines or scumbled swirls in the high horizon of the rectangle in which Twombly sets his scene. Nicola del Roscio, in his introductory memoire to the catalogue raisonné of Twombly’s work, describes the experience of observing Twombly work on these pictures in Rome in his apartment in Via Monserrato. “I still have a vision of Cy’s hands holding the white wax sticks like a conductor’s wand, moving as if by magic…Now and then the white wax crayon would break under the pressure of his fingers on the paper… I can still hear the noise of the wax sticks breaking under the pressure and the noise of restarting while Cy’s heavy breathing made one notice even more the silence of the room” (N. del Roscio, “The Atmosphere and the People Around Cy, 1970-1971,” in Cy Twombly—Drawings / Vol. 5, 1970 – 1971, Munich, 2015, p. 6). Del Roscio paints his own picture of an artist deep in concentration, bearing down on mark and physically engaged with support. Art historian Jeffrey Weiss makes the point that Twombly’s directional pull of right to left mimes his own cursive handwriting. “The property of drift, uncommon to most forms of picture making, is fundamental evidence demonstrating that individual paintings and drawings first cohere, pictorially through a bodily engagement with process” (J. Weiss, Reviews: “Cy Twombly,” Artforum, October 2008). In Untitled, we recognize our own physicality, our own script. In this way, Twombly’s art of overflowing, his bursts of linearity approximate what curator and art historian Kurt Varnedo called, “[a] personal art… out of means which appear so studiously, so implacably artless” (K. Varnedoe, op. cit., p. 74).

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