CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more A CENTURY OF ART: THE GERALD FINEBERG COLLECTION
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)


CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
signed, inscribed and dated ‘Cy Twombly 1956 (signed nyc 1985)' (on the reverse)
oil-based house paint, wax crayon and graphite on canvas
45 1/8 x 53 1/4in. (114.5 x 135.3cm.)
Executed in 1956
Robert Indiana Collection, New York and Vinalhaven (acquired directly from the artist).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 31 October 1984, lot 52.
Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne.
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 2002).
Private Collection, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
H. Bastian (ed.), Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume I, 1948-1960, Munich 1992, no. 65 (illustrated in colour, p. 123).
S. Busuttil (ed.), White, New York 2001, p. 134, no. 67 (detail illustrated, pp. 136-137).
Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Center, Cy Twombly Paintings and Drawings, 1968, no. 7.
New York, Hirschl & Adler Modern, Cy Twombly, 1986, no. 1 (illustrated in colour on the front cover).
Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Cy Twombly. Paintings, Works on Paper, Sculpture, 1987-1988, p. 42, no. 7 (illustrated in colour, p. 43). This exhibition later travelled to Madrid, Palacio de Velazquez and Palacio de Cristal; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Dusseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle and Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, 1990-1991, pp. 95-96, no. 46 (illustrated, p. 94). This exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago and Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Interim Head of Department

Lot Essay

Dynamic and lyrical in equal measure, the present work is an electrifying vision from a breakthrough period in Cy Twombly’s early career. Executed in 1956, the year before his pivotal move to Rome, it marks the birth of the wild, linear abstract language that crystallised during his early days in New York. Prior to its inclusion in Twombly’s major 1987 touring retrospective organised by the Kunsthaus Zurich, the work spent almost three decades in the collection of his friend and former studio partner Robert Indiana. Shot through with the influence of Abstract Expressionism, it is a product of the vibrant, creative energy that swept Manhattan in the 1950s. Into a ground of pale impasto, Twombly incises a frenetic, looping pencil scrawl that hangs across the top of the picture plane like a storm cloud. Below, ghostly marks glimmer through the texture, straining to be seen and heard. The boundaries between painting, writing and drawing dissolve, paving the way for the landmark ‘blackboards’ that would announce Twombly’s return to the city a decade later.

Following his debut solo exhibition at New York’s Stable Gallery in 1955, Twombly had begun to move away from the surreal biomorphic forms of his early practice. Nowhere is this transition more clearly expressed than in the present work: it is painted directly over a 1953 canvas entitled La-la. In an act reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning Drawings (1951-1953), Twombly cancels out his own past. In place of the earlier picture's thick black structures is a sparse ground, flecked with pale, schismatic tracery and flickering, illegible pulsations. Elements of this new language had been set in motion the previous year in major works such as Panorama and Academy (Museum of Modern Art, New York). In the present painting, Twombly goes further still. The work, writes the critic Roberta Smith, is ‘more abstract’ and ‘less legible than many of [its] predecessors … Instead, Twombly has eliminated all pretense to premeditation here, concentrating on line, the thing he knows best’ (R. Smith, ‘Rewriting History’, in Cy Twombly, exh. cat. Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York 1986, n. p.).

Twombly’s early years in New York were fundamental. It was an exciting time to be in the city, which—with the rise of Abstract Expressionism—was gradually superseding Paris as the centre of the Western art world. Mark Rothko’s mature colour fields, Willem de Kooning’s Women, Barnett Newman’s ‘zips’ and Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings were all in their heyday. Twombly saw all these works and more, and even travelled to meet Pollock at his home on Long Island on several occasions. While the influence of these artists was undeniable, however, Twombly was already at the helm of a new generation. Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were his close friends. The space he shared with Indiana was located on the Coenties Slip, home to artists including Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly. Twombly reportedly left four still-wet canvases behind in Indiana’s studio, two of which the artist purloined as supports for his own paintings. It was a time of rich creative exchange and exploration: one that would eventually surpass Abstract Expressionism altogether.

While the present work speaks evocatively to this zeitgeist, it also demonstrates some of Twombly’s earlier influences. Between 1951 and 1952 he had attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he was exposed to a number of revolutionary thinkers. The composer John Cage had just developed his seminal 4’33’’: a piece consisting of nothing but the audience’s quiet expectation. The poet Charles Olson, meanwhile, taught that everything we know is in a constant state of flux, held together solely by our fragile attempts to impose order upon the vast, abstract nothingness of the universe. These ideas would ring in Twombly’s ears as he undertook military service between 1953 and 1954. Working as a cryptographer, he spent hours at night drawing in the dark, seeking to disconnect his hand from all intellectual intrusion. As his practice unfolded, these lessons would begin to etch themselves into his art. The present work offers a picture of knowledge in the process of formation: quivering tremors upon a blank, silent stage that begin to coalesce into something resembling meaning.

In this regard, the work also looks forwards. In Italy, Twombly would encounter the scars of antiquity that quivered upon the country’s walls and monuments. He immersed himself in a world of myth and legend, where half-formed stories and civilisations spoke to him in riddles from the distant past. At times his works were pale and blank, inspired by the writings of Stéphane Mallarmé and the sparkling white hues of the Mediterranean Sea. At other times, his spiralling scrawl would erupt into furious outbursts, channelling the movement and energy of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Deluge’ works. The ‘blackboards’, commenced upon Twombly’s return to New York in 1966, would mark the culmination of his first decade, their wild elliptical forms straining to form words and pictures. In the present work, the seeds of this explosion are sown. ‘Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history’, he wrote not long after its completion. ‘It does not illustrate—it is the sensation of its own realisation’ (C. Twombly, quoted in ‘Documenti di una nuova figurazione’, in L’Esperienza moderna, No. 2, August-September 1957, p. 32).

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