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


Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
signed, inscribed and dated 'Cy Twombly Paris 1963' (centre)
pencil and coloured pencil on paper
29 3/8 x 41 7/8in. (74.5 x 106.4cm.)
Executed in 1963
Galerie J, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1963.
Matthys-Colle Collection, exh. cat., Deurle, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, 2007, p. 142 (illustrated in colour, p. 35).
N. Del Roscio (ed.), Cy Twombly Drawings Cat. Rais. Vol. 3 1961-1963, Munich 2013, no. 287 (illustrated, p. 201).

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

‘In the early sixties … Twombly’s creative energy erupts, turning out an extended series of untitled compositions in which pictograms and ideograms – many, but not exclusively, sexual – swim and seethe in a broth of jittery action’
–Simon Schama

‘Every little point sets up a tension with something else. Each mark or shape is in a natural position. I mean, I don’t see anything that looks arbitrary or self-consciously placed. To me, it looks as if it happened naturally, and that’s the point I strive for’
–Cy Twombly

Held in the same collection since the year it was made in 1963, Untitled is lyrical effusion of colour and form that exemplifies Cy Twombly’s sensual, energetic abstract idiom of the early 1960s. Wisps and skeins of black pencil, purple clouds, spurts of pink and flashes of green tumble and froth across pure, creamy paper. A diagonal rhythm, like the movement of thought bubbles or the plumes of spray from a fountain, emanates from a trapezium at the centre, whose geometric shape offsets the vaporous bacchanal. A square sketched above seems to contain a miniature study of the whole composition. This tension between reasoned planning and airy improvisation is heightened by the small numbers that are scattered throughout the work. Echoing the coordinates or measurements on a map, they anchor a sense of Apollonian discipline amid Twombly’s Dionysian exuberance, penning in, for example, a whirling, orifice-like pink form to the right that flings out centrifugal droplets of emerald green. ‘Cy Twombly / Paris 1963’ is scrawled to the left, underscoring the correspondence between Twombly’s handwriting and his unfurling, calligraphic pictograms. He made this work in the latter half of 1963, while pausing in Paris during a car rally that took him through Rome, the French capital and London. It is tempting, if fanciful, to see some of that trip’s freewheeling speed and motion in the drawing: it is abuzz with joyful dynamism, jets of line like exhaust fumes, and dashes of colour that ignite the paper. The Virginia-born artist had moved to Rome in 1957, and the early 1960s saw his unique engagement with Europe reach a creative fever pitch. Bringing together the mythic allure of Classical antiquity, the somatic intensity of bodily experience and a poetic breakdown of semiotic systems, Twombly’s revolutionary markmaking gave birth to a radical new language. Untitled takes us on a whistle-stop tour.

Discussing the Ferragosto cycle that the artist painted in Rome in 1961, Kirk Varnedoe aptly sums up the unmistakable vitality of Twombly’s work from this period, and illuminates the push and pull between rationality and sensuous overflow that so enlivens the present work. Twombly’s ‘insistence on excess’, Varnedoe writes, ‘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 is a superlative example of this coupling of ‘cultural grandeur’ and unabashed eroticism; its lavish, throbbing tones and whirring pencilled lines are lively, spirited, even humorous, as they jostle with the austere structural elements of number and Euclidean form. Twombly conjures transcendent ‘life energy’ in a poetic cocktail of passion and reason, the joys of gods and men beating in the same vein.

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