CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)


CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
signed 'Cy Twombly' (lower left)
graphite, wax crayon and oil-based house paint on paper laid on board
14 1⁄8 x 13in. (36 x 33cm.)
Executed in 1961
Private Collection, Vittorio Veneto.
Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris.
Claude Reich Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above in 2002).
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 5 October 2019, lot 278.
Galerie Karsten Greve, St-Moritz.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2020.
N. del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings: Catalogue Raisonné Vol. 3 1961-1963, Munich 2013, no. 29 (illustrated in colour, p. 40).

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Lot Essay

Replete with numerical scatterings and graphic, handwritten scrawls, the present work on paper, executed in graphite, wax crayon and oil-based house paint, marks a crucial period of development in Cy Twombly’s inimitable style. It was this year, 1961, that marked the beginning of the five years Twombly would spend in his spacious rented studio in the Piazza del Biscione near Campo de’ Fiori in Rome. Line is at once lyrical and fidgety, it dances and skims over the paper surface, plunging between pools of coherence and incoherence. Legibility is fleeting; notational signs are seen and grasped in flashes of grey and red, only to be subsumed by shoots, spirals and loops of scribbles. Masterful and captivating, Untitled relays the significance of Twombly’s technical drawing process in carving out his signature expression, and indeed the synergy between drawing and painting within his practice.

First moving to Rome from New York in 1957, and travelling extensively through Italy in the subsequent years, our work bears the distinct fusion of an accrued, transatlantic visual language that defines Twombly’s oeuvre. Recalling the gestural, cathartic looseness of Abstract Expressionism in the States, and the psycho-erotic automatism pioneered by European Surrealism, Twombly’s erratic hand echoes his own peripatetic activity. Located in Europe, with ready access to the architectural triumphs and ruins of classical antiquity, Twombly’s work of this period is distinctly evocative of the archaeological artefact. Bearing traces and layers of inscribed signs and symbols, his works pertain to ancient hieroglyphics and palimpsests, recalling mysterious, past Mediterranean civilisations. In our work, three sharply outlined forms stand erect like classical columns, and scratches of graphite form two inverted curves, which slope like buttresses or vaulted arches. Simon Schama describes the 1960s as the decade in which ‘Twombly’s creative energy erupts’, where ‘pictograms and ideograms … swim and seethe in a broth of jittery action’ (N. del Roscio (ed.), The Essential Cy Twombly, London 2014, p. 12). Twombly’s unmistakable signature can be deciphered, sloping candidly across the lower right corner of the page. Permeating the spectacle of scrawls with his own recognisable sign, Twombly includes his own presence as part of the work’s unconscious symbolism.

It is in this pivotal period from 1959 to 1961 that Twombly made thrilling strides in mastering his own graphology. Shifting from the pure automatism of his earlier career towards a more systematised lexicon of symbols, Richard Leeman relates Twombly’s works on paper of this period to the esteemed Renaissance disegno, which recognised drawing as the foundational, total concept of a work of art (R. Leeman, Cy Twombly A Monograph, London 2005, p. 179). Indeed, our work, with its numerical sequences, circles, tables and crosses, bears a diagrammatic quality indicative of a greater, intellectual design. The numerical sequence ‘6, 7, 8, 9’ is scrawled down the lower left vertical edge. Reading and following this visual path leads the eye to ’10’, which in turn takes us via an arrow to a conclusive yet unintelligible scribble at the base of the composition. Similarly, at the centre of the page between two flanking, graphite curves of line, the number ‘1’ is connected by a swooping, directing line down to ‘2, 3, 4, 5’.

Steering the viewer through a network of routes, connections and dead-ends, Twombly constructs a topographical playground that operates like an architectural plan or map, with its own devised key. Captivating the viewer in an interactive game of decoding, the present work attests to the unique rigour found in Twombly’s drawings from his early career in Rome. Experimenting here for the first time with surface texture, smudging and bursts of vivid colour, these drawings laid the foundations for his major paintings of that year, notably Empire of Flora, The Italians and Bay of Naples, held in the collections of the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, Berlin, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Dia Art Foundation, New York, respectively.

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