CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
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CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
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Property from the Collection of Shirley Ross Davis
CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)

Untitled (Roman Note)

CY TWOMBLY (1928-2011)
Twombly, C.
Untitled (Roman Note)
inscribed '3' (upper left)
oil, wax crayon and graphite on paper laid down on panel
27 5/8 x 34 ½ in. (70.2 x 87.5 cm.)
Executed in 1970.
Marx Collection, Berlin
Peder Bonnier, New York
Pace Gallery, New York, 1987
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1988
N. Del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings, Cat. Rais. Vol. 5 1970-1971, Munich, 2015, p. 49, no. 53 (illustrated).
Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz and Mönchengladbach, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol: Sammlung Marx, March-September 1982, pp. 149 and 223, no. 84 (illustrated; titled as Roman Note 3).
New York, Pace Gallery, Cy Twombly Works on Paper, January 1988, n.p., pl. 8 (illustrated; titled as Roman Note 3).

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Lot Essay

Teeming with the energy of Cy Twombly’s inimitable lasso-loops, Untitled (Roman Note) serves as a seminal example of the artist’s persistent interest in aesthetic gesture and process. Painted concurrently with his celebrated Blackboard series of 1966-1971, Untitled (Roman Note) marks a formative juncture in Twombly’s career. In this 1970 composition, the rhythmic movement of the artist’s hand is traceable across the four swirling lines of deep blue wax crayon, scrawled atop a lustrous blueish-grey wash of thinned oil paint. The lyrical loops allude to symbolic processes—namely writing and painting—while denying definitive meaning. The dichotomy of representation and abstraction in the present work reflect Twombly’s larger oeuvre, where facture and gesture frequently transcend legibility.

While ostensibly spontaneous, the metrical blue scribbles point towards painting as an intentional act. Pulsating left to right in parallel bands, these loops resemble handwriting while remaining unidentifiable in form. Defying rationality, the script becomes a frenetic transfer of energy: a dynamic flow from the artist’s hand to crayon to paper. In Untitled (Roman Note), Twombly first applies luminescent layers of diluted, silvery oil paint. Sitting atop this shimmering field, the lapis loops develop their own movement, like an ocean swell that determines the rhythm of the composition. At first appearing like handwriting or hieroglyphs, Twombly’s calligraphic forms mimic the symbols they refuse, becoming instead purely aesthetic signifiers. These notes repeat and progress across the sheet, developing a momentum that seems their own.

Twombly’s enduring interest in legibility spans his career. The artist’s first visit to Rome in the early 1950s left an indelible mark, as he quickly became captivated by the city and its history. In particular, Twombly was taken with the city’s Classical ruins, adorned with ancient graffiti and cryptic signs. These inscriptions, devoid of any easily decipherable meaning, carried historical and emotional weight nonetheless. In other words, while illegible, they still demanded aesthetic engagement. In 1953, Twombly was conscripted to the United States Army, where he underwent basic training before specializing in military cryptography. Here, too, the illegible seems to follow Twombly. To “untrain” his hand from his day work of coding and decoding symbols, Twombly began drawing at night after lights-out. This nocturnal drawing allowed the artist to liberate the act of creation from the constraints of rationality, echoing the Surrealist technique of automatic writing championed by André Breton. In Twombly’s creative process, self-consciousness evaporates, and the act of drawing becomes a pure, transcendent form of expression.

In this way, Untitled (Roman Note) is the culmination of a career-long investment in artistic gesture. The Roman Notes and Blackboard paintings were an aesthetic inflection point in Twombly’s career, purging the Baroque expressionism and color of his early 1960s works. Yet, despite this expressive shift, these later paintings are remarkably consistent with the artist’s historical interest in the illegible. In denying interpretation or symbol in any classical sense, Twombly taps into a more universal and elegant visual language. Twombly’s gesture becomes the formal logic underpinning the work itself. Painterly action and mark-making become cohesive expressions of artistic instinct. His notation is paradoxical – at once unconscious and intentional, expressive and contained, inviting and elusive. While they refuse to be read, they encourage close engagement and emotional resonance. Twombly’s palimpsestic paintings become containers for artistic gesture, where primal artistic impulse radiates.

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