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

Untitled (Rome)

Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
Untitled (Rome)
signed and dated 'Cy Twombly 1957' (on the reverse)
oil based house paint and graphite on canvas
23 1/4 x 31 1/4 in. (59 x 79.3 cm.)
Painted in 1957.
Stephen Mazoh, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983
H. Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings 1948-1960, Munich, 1992, vol. I, p. 161, no. 103 (illustrated, incorrectly catalogued and dated '1958').
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Lot Essay

"Most painting defines the image. It is at this point that I break with the more general process of painting. Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate, it is the sensation of its own realization. The imagery is one of private indulgences, rather than an abstract totality of visual perception." Cy Twombly, “Signs,” L’Esperienza moderna, no.2, August-September 1957.

Painted in 1957, Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Rome) is early evidence of the artist’s fascination with mark-making, a practice that would eventually come to dominate his celebrated career. The winding and twisting line set against a surface of active brushwork is the direct antecedent of the signature looping, lyrical marks that Twombly would develop in his later works, produced after his trips to the Italy and the Mediterranean in the early 1960s. This subtle and intimate work also typifies the reductive palette that the artist was working with during this period, as well as highlighting the different techniques he was investigating to produce varied qualities texture of paint on his canvas. This shifting between the visible and invisible, and between clear and imagined forms, became one of the unifying themes of Twombly’s work.

The 1950s marked an intense period of innovation for Twombly. After completing his studies New York’s Art Students League he embarked on a semester at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1951. One of his teachers there was Robert Motherwell, who immediately saw the potential in his protégé, “I believe that Cy Twombly is the most accomplished young painter whose work I happen to have encountered,” he said, “he is a ‘natural’ in regard to what is going on in painting now….the art in his painting is rational, often surprising simply symmetrical and invariably harmonious” (R. Motherwell in V. Katz, “Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art,” Black Mountain College, Cambridge, 2002, p. 162). It was here that Twombly had begun to set himself free from the constraints of Abstract Expressionism to find his own pictorial language. This early emersion in the tradition of action painting became his point of departure for the development of a highly personal ‘handwriting' that served as a vehicle for literary content.

This handwriting would come to define the rest of the artist’s career. “The graphic language of Twombly remains at all times inimitable,” the French art critic Pierre Restany wrote. “The miracle of Twombly is precisely this manner of writing, of dis-figuring symbols, alphabets and numbers; and of expressing nothing but himself, with a claim of absolute totality, when he accomplishes this revolution of the sign” (P. Restany, quoted in H. Szeemann, Cy Twombly: Paintings, Works on Paper, Sculpture, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich, 1987, p. 25). The meandering line in Untitled (Rome) only briefly breaks into recognizable motifs (a rudimentary square, and maybe a loop or swirl), creating a tension between this near decipherable format and their purely abstract graphics.

Twombly's unique language of simplified gestures and forms, whose earliest manifestations can be seen in Untitled (Rome), allude to a higher state of being, transcending the finite realism of pictorial materiality. Such forthright marks are rich with lyrical gestures and sweeping movements which reach out across the surface, evoking a landscape strewn with the debris of subconscious thoughts over time. Simultaneously, Twombly imbues in his art with a deeper, more enigmatic rhetoric of meaning and associations that we may only fleetingly touch upon as an insight into the ever-elusive artist's mind.

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