Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
Cy Twombly (1928-2011)


Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
signed, inscribed and dated 'Cy Twombly Roma 1961' (on the reverse)
pencil, wax crayon and coloured pencil on paper
13 ¼ x 14 1/8in. (33.5 x 35.8cm.)
Executed in 1961
Private Collection, Germany (acquired in the 1960s).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
N. Del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings Cat. Rais. Vol. 3 1961-1963, Munich 2013, no. 35 (illustrated in colour, p. 43).

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Alessandro Diotallevi
Alessandro Diotallevi

Lot Essay

‘O dreamer, if I’m to plunge
Into the pure delight that needs no path,
Know, by a subtle lie,
To hold my wing within your hand’

‘Everything about the [1961-65] paintings … above all, their permeation with antiquity and the Mediterranean world – sets them apart from the larger body of artistic theory of the latter half of this century’

‘Twombly’s art consists in making us see things: not those which he represents (this is another problem), but those which he manipulates: a few pencil strokes, this squared paper, this touch of pink, this brown smudge. This is an art with a secret, which is in general not that of spreading the substance (charcoal, ink, oils) but of letting it trail behind. One might think that in order to express the character of pencil one has to press it against the paper, to reinforce its appearance, to make it thick, intensely black. Twombly thinks the opposite: it is in holding in check the pressure of matter, in letting it alight almost nonchalantly on the paper so that its grain is a little dispersed, that matter will show its essence and make us certain of its correct name: this is pencil. If we wanted to philosophize a little, we would say that the essence of things is not in their weight but in their lightness; and we would thereby perhaps confirm one of Nietzsche's statements: “What is good is light”: and indeed, nothing is less Wagnerian than Twombly’

An ecstatic effusion of virile form and vivid colour, Untitled (1961) captures the essence of Cy Twombly’s groundbreaking abstract practice in early 1960s Rome. Having moved permanently to the city in 1957, the year of 1961 – during whose summer he also painted the renowned Ferragosto cycle – saw him reach a prolific fever pitch of creativity. Bringing together the mythic allure of Classical antiquity, the somatic intensity of bodily experience and a poetic breakdown of semiotic systems, Twombly’s revolutionary mark-making gave birth to a radical new language. In Untitled, skeins and flurries of graphite establish a diagonal thrust across the page. The upper half is largely blank, conjuring an airy idea of sky over landscape. Flashes of coloured crayon – an ochre smear, blood red scrawls, a glimmer of pale lilac, a spurt of bright yellow – lend the work an explosive vitality, and highlight glyphic forms that allude to male and female genitalia. Tight thickets of dark line are sunk among more ghostly pencilled whorls. A blocklike shape to the lower left and a small triangle with numbered corners anchor a reasoning impulse among the bacchanal. In this electrifying syncretic vision, ancient romance encounters raw physicality, the ethereal and the visceral are fused, and realms of high and low existence pulse in the same vein. Twombly’s inspirational fervour is distilled into a small-scale composition that is enigmatic, immediate and utterly compelling.

Kirk Varnedoe’s eloquent exegesis of the great paintings of 1961 applies just as aptly to Untitled. These paintings, he asserts, are ‘amongst the most impressive, most emotionally wrought works of Twombly’s career… They reach for a higher level of lyricism, and a greater grandiloquence, precisely through their more aggressive release of explicitly defiling messiness. Their insistence on excess is both playful and violently transgressive; when it is joined with glorious colour, aerated white space, and a baroque sense of monumental aspiration and exultation, the result is an unfamiliar merger many will find easier to reduce, either to raw chaos or lyric splash. Yet in all of Twombly’s work, and here most especially, those who focus on the appeal to cultural grandeur but slight the celebration of bodily physicality, or vice versa, miss what is most distinctive about the art: it wants exactly to convey a sense of life energy that yokes these exalted and debased domains together and makes their energies indivisible’ (K. Varnedoe, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York 1994, pp. 34-35). Untitled’s own lavish sensuality and throbbing flesh tones present precisely this transcendent ‘sense of life energy.’ They are played against such structural elements as the diagrammatic triangle and rectangular block; the latter suggests bed, plinth or tomb, and is superimposed with a distinctly bodily cleft form and bursts of ejaculatory colour. It is in this pull of Dionysian abandon versus Apollonian restraint that Twombly’s work finds its extraordinary power. Through his nearscriptural graphic idiom, such juxtapositions also further an investigation of the incommensurable nature of word and image, image and thing: the passions of gods and men beat together in a vision of endless ambiguity, wavering architectures of meaning, and unadulterated poetic joy.

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