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Cy Twombly

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Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly
Cy Twombly in his studio
Born Edwin Parker Twombly, Jr.
(1928-04-25)April 25, 1928
Lexington, Virginia, United States
Died July 5, 2011(2011-07-05) (aged 83)
Rome, Italy
Nationality American
Education School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Washington and Lee University
Art Students League of New York
Black Mountain College
Known for Painting, sculpture, calligraphy
Awards Praemium Imperiale

Edwin Parker "Cy" Twombly, Jr. (; April 25, 1928 – July 5, 2011[1]) was an American painter, sculptor and photographer. He belonged to the generation of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns but made the specific choice to live in Europe (Italy) after 1957.

His paintings of large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic and graffiti-like works on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors are in the permanent collections of most of the museums of modern art around the world, including the Menil Collection in Houston, the Tate Modern in London or the New York's Museum of Modern Art. He was also commisionned for the ceiling of a room of the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Many of his later paintings and works on paper shifted toward "romantic symbolism", and their titles can be interpreted visually through shapes and forms and words. Twombly often quoted the poets as [3] Twombly is said to have influenced younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anselm Kiefer, Francesco Clemente, and Julian Schnabel.[4]


  • Life and career 1
  • Work 2
  • Exhibitions 3
    • Retrospectives 3.1
  • Collections 4
  • Recognition 5
  • Cy Twombly Foundation 6
  • Art market 7
  • Publications 8
  • Phaedrus Incident 9
  • Sources 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Life and career

Twombly was born in Lexington, Virginia on April 25, 1928. Twombly's father, also nicknamed "Cy", pitched for the Chicago White Sox.[5] They were both nicknamed after the baseball great Cy Young who pitched for, among others, the Cardinals, Red Sox, Indians, and Braves.

At age 12, Twombly began to take private art lessons with the Catalan modern master School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1948–49), and at Washington and Lee University (1949–50) in Lexington, Virginia. On a tuition scholarship from 1950 to 1951, he studied at the Art Students League of New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg, who encouraged him to attend Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. At Black Mountain in 1951 and 1952 he studied with Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Ben Shahn, and met John Cage. The poet and rector of the College Charles Olson had a great influence on him.

Arranged by Motherwell, Twombly's first solo exhibition was organized by the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in New York in 1951. At this time his work was influenced by Kline's black-and-white gestural expressionism, as well as Paul Klee's imagery. In 1952, Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts which enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France. He spent this journey in Africa and Europe with Robert Rauschenberg. In 1954, he served in the U.S. Army as a cryptographer in Washington, D.C. and would frequently travel to New York during periods of leave. From 1955 through 1956, he taught at the Southern Seminary and Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia, currently known as Southern Virginia University; during the summer vacations, Twombly would travel to New York to paint in his Williams Street apartment.[7]

In 1957, Twombly moved to Rome, where he met the Italian artist Baroness Tatiana Franchetti – sister of his patron Baron Giorgio Franchetti. They were married at City Hall in New York in 1959[8] and then bought a palazzo on the Via di Monserrato in Rome. In addition, they had a 17th-century villa in Bassano in Teverina, north of Rome.[9] They had a son, Cyrus Alessandro Twombly (born 1959), who is also a painter and lives in Rome.

In 1964, Twombly met Nicola Del Roscio of Gaeta, who became his longtime companion.[9][10] Twombly bought a house and rented a studio in Gaeta in the early 1990s.[9] Twombly and Tatiana, who died in 2010, never divorced and remained friends.[9]

In 2011, Twombly died in Rome after being hospitalized for several days; he had had cancer for many years.[11] A plaque in Santa Maria in Vallicella commemorates him.[12]


After his return in 1953, Twombly served in the U.S. army as a cryptologist, an activity that left a distinct mark on his artistic style.[13] From 1955 to 1959, he worked in New York, where he became a prominent figure among a group of artists including Robert Rauschenberg – with whom he had a relationship[14] and was sharing a studio[15] – and Jasper Johns. Exposure to the emerging New York School purged figurative aspects from his work, encouraging a simplified form of abstraction. He became fascinated with tribal art, using the painterly language of the early 1950s to invoke primitivism, reversing the normal evolution of the New York School. Twombly soon developed a technique of gestural drawing that was characterized by thin white lines on a dark canvas that appear to be scratched onto the surface. His early sculptures, assembled from discarded objects, similarly cast their gaze back to Europe and North Africa. He stopped making sculptures in 1959 and did not take up sculpting again until 1976.[16]

Twombly often inscribed on paintings the names of mythological figures during the 1960s.[17] Twombly's move to Gaeta in Southern Italy in 1957 gave him closer contact with classical sources. From 1962 he produced a cycle of works based on myths including Leda and the Swan and The Birth of Venus; myths were frequent themes of Twombly's 1960s work. Between 1960 and 1963 Twombly painted the rape of Leda by the god Zeus/Jupiter in the form of a Swan six times, once in 1960, twice in 1962 and three times in 1963.[18]

Twombly's 1964 exhibition of the nine-panel Discourses on Commodus (1963) at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York was panned by artist and writer Donald Judd who said “There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” he wrote in a review. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”[19]

Erotic and corporeal symbols became more prominent, whilst a greater lyricism developed in his 'Blackboard paintings'. Between 1967 and 1971, he produced a number of works on gray grounds, the 'grey paintings'. This series features terse, colorless scrawls, reminiscent of chalk on a blackboard, that form no actual words. Twombly made this work using an unusual technique: he sat on the shoulders of a friend, who shuttled back and forth along the length of the canvas, thus allowing the artist to create his fluid, continuous lines.[20] In the summer and early autumn of 1969, Twombly made a series of fourteen paintings while staying at Bolsena, a lake to the north of Rome. In 1971, Nini Pirandello, the wife of Twombly’s Roman gallerist Plinio De Martiis, died suddenly. In tribute, Twombly painted the elegiac "Nini’s Paintings".

His later sculptures exhibit a similar blend of emotional expansiveness and intellectual sophistication. From 1976, Twombly again produced sculptures, lightly painted in white, suggestive of Classical forms. Like his earlier works, these pieces are assembled from found materials such as pieces of wood or packaging, or cast in bronze and covered in white paint and plaster.[21] In an interview with critic David Sylvester, on the occasion of the large exhibition of his sculpture at Kunstmuseum Basel in 2000, Twombly revealed that, for him, the demands of making sculpture were distinctly different from those required of painting. “[Sculpture is] a whole other state. And it’s a building thing. Whereas the painting is more fusing—fusing of ideas, fusing of feelings, fusing projected on atmosphere.”[22]

In the mid-1970s, in paintings such as Untitled (1976), Twombly began to evoke landscape through colour (favouring brown, green and light blue), written inscriptions and collage elements.[23] In 1978 he worked on the monumental historical ensemble Fifty Days at Iliam, a ten-part cycle inspired by Homer's Iliad; since then Twombly continued to draw on literature and myth, deploying cryptic pictorial metaphors that situate individual experience within the grand narratives of Western tradition, as in the Gaeta canvases and the monumental Four Seasons concluded in 1994.

In an essay in the catalogue to the 2011 Dulwich exhibition (see below), Katharina Schmidt summarizes the scope and technique of Twombly's œuvre:

"Cy Twombly's work can be understood as one vast engagement with cultural memory. His paintings, drawings and sculptures on mythological subjects have come to form a significant part of that memory. Usually drawing on the most familiar gods and heroes, he restricts himself to just a few, relatively well-known episodes, as narrated by poet-historians, given visible shape by artists and repeatedly reinterpreted in the literature and visual art of later centuries.....His special medium is writing. Starting out from purely graphic marks, he developed a kind of meta-script in which abbreviated signs, hatchings, loops, numbers and the simplest of pictographs spread throughout the picture plane in a process of incessant movement, repeatedly subverted by erasures. Eventually, this metamorphosed into script itself."[24]

However, in a 1994 article Kirk Varnedoe thought it necessary to defend Twombly's seemingly random marks and splashes of paint against the criticism that "This is just scribbles – my kid could do it".

"One could say that any child could make a drawing like Twombly only in the sense that any fool with a hammer could fragment sculptures as Rodin did, or any house painter could spatter paint as well as Pollock. In none of these cases would it be true. In each case the art lies not so much in the finesse of the individual mark, but in the orchestration of a previously uncodified set of personal "rules" about where to act and where not, how far to go and when to stop, in such a way as the cumulative courtship of seeming chaos defines an original, hybrid kind of order, which in turn illuminates a complex sense of human experience not voiced or left marginal in previous art."[25]

Together with Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Twombly is regarded as the most important representative of a generation of artists who distanced themselves from Abstract Expressionism.[26]


After having shown at Stable Gallery from 1953 to 1957, Twombly moved to Leo Castelli Gallery and later exhibited with Gagosian Gallery. Gagosian Gallery opened a new gallery in Rome, Twombly's hometown, on the December 15, 2007 with their inaugural exhibition being his "Three Notes from Salalah".[27]

In 1993, at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York, an exhibition of Twombly's photographs offered a selection of large blurry color images of tulips, trees and ancient busts, based on the artist's Polaroids. In 2008, a specially curated selection of Twombly's photographic work was exhibited in Huis Marseille, the Museum for Photography, Amsterdam; the exhibition was opened by Sally Mann. For the season 2010/2011 in the Vienna State Opera Cy Twombly designed the large scale picture (176 sqm) "Bacchus" as part of the exhibition series "Safety Curtain", conceived by museum in progress.[28] In 2011, the Museum Brandhorst, mounted a retrospective of Twombly's photographs from 1951 to 2010. It later was passed over to the "Museum für Gegenwartskunst" at Siegen[29] and the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels.

Twombly's work went on display as part of "Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters" at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London from June 29, 2011 less than a week before Twombly's death. The show was built on a quote by Twombly stating that “I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time” and is the first time that his work was put in an exhibition with Poussin.[30] Opening in conjunction with the museum's Modern Wing, Twombly's solo exhibition —Cy Twombly: The Natural World, Selected Works 2000–2007— was on display at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. "The Last Paintings", Twombly's most recent solo exhibition, began in Los Angeles in early 2012. Following the Hong Kong exhibition, it will travel to Gagosian Gallery locations in London and New York throughout 2012. The eight untitled paintings are closely related to the Camino Real group that inaugurated Gagosian Paris in 2010.


In 1968, the Milwaukee Art Museum mounted the first retrospective of his art. Twombly had his next retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1979, curated by David Whitney. The artist has later been honored by retrospectives at the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1987 (curated by Harald Szeemann), the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, in 1988, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1994, with additional venues in Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin.[31] In 2001, the Menil Collection, the Kunstmuseum Basel, and the National Gallery of Art presented the first exhibition devoted entirely to Twombly's sculpture, assembling sixty-six works created from 1946 to 1998.[32] The European retrospective "Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons" opened at the Tate Modern, London, in June 2008, with subsequent versions at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome in 2009. At the Tate Modern retrospective, a text read:

"This was his first solo retrospective in fifteen years, and provides an overview of his work from the 1950s to now.... At the heart of the exhibition is Twombly’s work exploring the cycles associated with seasons, nature and the passing of time. Several key groups are brought together for the first time, such as Tate’s Four Seasons (1993–94) with those from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The exhibition also explores how Twombly is influenced by antiquity, myth and the Mediterranean, for example the violent red swirls in the Bacchus 2005 paintings which bring to mind the drunken god of wine. The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to see the full range of Twombly’s long and influential career from a fresh perspective.[21] "

Some of his work was also shown in an exhibition named 'Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings' which ran from 22 June to 28 October 2012 at Tate Liverpool.[33]


In 1989, the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened permanent rooms dedicated to his monumental 10-painting cycle, Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), based on Alexander Pope’s translation of “The Iliad.”[19]

The Cy Twombly Gallery of the Menil Collection in Houston, which was designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 1995, houses more than thirty of Twombly's paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, dating from 1953 to 1994. A large collection of Twombly's work is also kept by the Museum Brandhorst, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich and The Dallas Museum of Art, Texas.

In 1995, The Four Seasons entered the permanent collection of the François Morellet in 2010.[34] In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, made a large acquisition of nine works worth about $75 million.[16] The Bacchus series and five bronze sculptures were gifted by Twombly's estate to Tate Modern in 2014.[35]

The Art Institute of Chicago hosts an ongoing exhibition, "Cy Twombly: Sculpture Selections, 1948–1995". The exhibition features examples of Twombly’s sculptures made between 1948 and 1995, composed primarily of rough elements of wood coated in plaster and white paint.[36] The Institute also holds prints, drawings, and paintings by the artist in its permanent collection.[37]


Twombly was a recipient of numerous awards, in 1984 he was awarded the “Internationaler Preis für bildende Kunst des Landes Baden-Württemberg” and in 1987 the “Rubens-Peis der Stadt Siegen,” but most notably awarded the Praemium Imperiale in 1996.

Twombly was invited to exhibit his work at the Venice Biennale in 1964, 1989 and 2001 when he was awarded the Golden Lion at the 49th Venice Biennale. In 2010, he was made Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by the French government. During fall 2010, Tacita Dean produced a film on Twombly, titled "Edwin Parker".[38]

Cy Twombly Foundation

Twombly's will, written under U.S. law, allocated the bulk of the artist's art and cash to the Cy Twombly Foundation. The foundation now controls much of Twombly's work. It has reported $70 million in assets in 2011, and $1.5 billion in the following two years.[39][40] In 2012 it purchased a 25-foot-wide Beaux Arts mansion on 19 E 82nd St, Upper East Side Manhattan, planning to open an education center and a small museum.[41][42] There is an additional foundation office on the Gaeta property.[9] The four board members were divided in a lawsuit, settled in March 2014.[43]

Art market

In 1990, a Christie's auction set a record for Twombly, with his 1971 untitled blackboard painting fetching $5.5 million. In 2011, a Twombly work from 1967, "Untitled", sold for $15.2 million at Christie's in New York.[44] A new record was made in May 2012 for the 1970 painting "Untitled (New York)" at Sotheby's, selling for $17.4 million (€13.4 million).[45] In November 2013 a record price of $21.7 million for Poems to the Sea (1959), an abstract, 24-part multimedium work on paper, was achieved at Sotheby's Contemporary Art Sale.[46]

A new price record was set at Christie's Contemporary Art Sale on November 12, 2014, an untitled 1970 painting from his ‘Blackboard’ series fetched far beyond the $35 million to $55 million estimate, selling at $69.6 million (£44.3m).[47]


A first monograph of drawings edited by Heiner Bastian was published in 1972. In 1977, the first monograph on the paintings was published by Propyläen Verlag in Berlin, followed by the publication of his catalogue raisonné of sculpture by Nicola Del Roscio in 1997.

Phaedrus Incident

In 2007, an exhibition of Twombly's paintings, Blooming, a Scattering of Blossoms and Other Things, and other works on paper from gallerist Yvon Lambert's collection was displayed from June to September in Avignon (France), at the Lambert Foundation (Hôtel de Caumont). On July 19, 2007, police arrested Cambodian-French artist Rindy Sam after she kissed one panel of Twombly's triptych Phaedrus. The panel, an all-white canvas, was smudged by Sam's red lipstick. She was tried in a court in Avignon for "voluntary degradation of a work of art".

Sam defended her gesture to the court: "J'ai fait juste un bisou. C'est un geste d'amour, quand je l'ai embrassé, je n'ai pas réfléchi, je pensais que l'artiste, il aurait compris... Ce geste était un acte artistique provoqué par le pouvoir de l'art" ("It was just a kiss, a loving gesture. I kissed it without thinking; I thought the artist would understand.... It was an artistic act provoked by the power of Art").

The prosecution, calling it "A sort of cannibalism, or parasitism", while admitting that Sam is "visibly not conscious of what she has done", asked that she be fined €4500 and compelled to attend a citizenship class. The art work, which is worth an estimated $2 million, was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Avignon.[48][49][50] In November 2007 Sam was convicted and ordered to pay €1,000 to the painting's owner, €500 to the Avignon gallery that showed it, and €1 to the painter.[51]


  • The Art Institute of Chicago Retrieved May 7, 2015
  • Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons. Edited by Nicholas Serota. London: Tate Publishing and Distributed Art Publishers, 2008.
  • Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters Dulwich Picture Gallery June 29 – September 25, 2011.


  1. ^ The Sunday Times Magazine, The Sunday Times, December 18, 2011, page 64
  2. ^ Kennedy, Randy (July 5, 2011). "Cy Twombly, Idiosyncratic Painter, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  3. ^ Morgan, Joyce (July 7, 2011). "With his feet on classical ground". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 14. Retrieved July 7, 2011. 
  4. ^ Matt Schudel (July 6, 2011), Cy Twombly, influential Va.-born abstract artist, dies at 83 Washington Post.
  5. ^ Alastair Sooke (February 9, 2009), Cy Twombly: late flowering for Mr Scribbles The Telegraph
  6. ^ Cy Twombly Gallery Menil Collection.
  7. ^ Varnedoe, Kirk (1994). Cy Twombly: A Retrospective. New York: The Museum of Modern Art. pp. 20–23. 
  8. ^ Jonathan Jones (April 10, 2004), The last American hurrah The Guardian.
  9. ^ a b c d e Stacey Stowe (March 26, 2015), Cultivating Genius T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
  10. ^ "CY TWOMBLY, 1928-2011". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-03-14. 
  11. ^ "US artist Cy Twombly dies in Rome: French gallery". Agence France-Presse. Retrieved July 5, 2011. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Cy Twombly Biography
  14. ^ Jones, Jonathan (May 15, 2008). "The trashcan laureate". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  15. ^ Holland Cotter (February 4, 2005), A Sensualist's Odd Ascetic Aesthetic New York Times.
  16. ^ a b Carol Vogel (March 11, 2011), MoMA to Acquire Cy Twombly Works New York Times.
  17. ^ Graig G. Staff, "A Poetics of Becoming: The Mythography of Cy Twombly". In: Hirsh, Jennie, and Wallace, Isabelle D., eds. Contemporary Art and Classical Myth. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.
  18. ^ (1963), Sale 2355Leda and the SwanCy Twombly, Christie's New York, Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, November 10, 2010.
  19. ^ a b Randy Kennedy (July 5, 2011), American Artist Who Scribbled a Unique Path New York Times.
  20. ^ (1970)UntitledCy Twombly MoMA Collection
  21. ^ a b Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, June 19 – September 14, 2008. Tate Modern, London.
  22. ^ Sherwood Pundyk, Anne (September 2011). "Cy Twombly: Sculpture". The Brooklyn Rail. 
  23. ^ Cy Twombly MoMA Collection.
  24. ^ Katherina Schmidt, "Immortal and Eternally Young. Figures from classical mythology in the work of Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly", in Nicholas Cullinan (ed) Twombly and Poussin – Arcadian Painters. London: Dulwich Picture Gallery/Paul Holberton Publishing, 2011.
  25. ^ Do This, and Other Reflections on Cy Twombly".Not"Your Kid Could MoMa No.18, Autumn-Winter 1994, pp.18–23.
  26. ^ Cy Twombly Museum Brandhorst, Munich.
  27. ^ "Cy Twombly - December 15, 2007 - March 15, 2008 - Gagosian Gallery". 
  28. ^ "Safety Curtain 2010/2011", museum in progress, Vienna.
  29. ^ "Startseite - Museum für Gegenwartkunst Siegen". 
  30. ^ Hamilton, Adrian (July 5, 2011). "Twombly and Poussin: Every picture tells a story". The Independent (UK). Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  31. ^ Collection: Cy Twombly Guggenheim Collection.
  32. ^ "Cy Twombly: The Sculpture," May 6, – July 29, 2001 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  33. ^ "Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings - Tate". 
  34. ^ Nicole Winfield (July 6, 2011), American master painter Cy Twombly Philly Press.
  35. ^ "Tate gallery gifted Cy Twombly works worth £50m - BBC News". BBC. June 12, 2014. Retrieved April 6, 2015. 
  36. ^ "Cy Twombly: Sculpture Selections, 1948–1995". 
  37. ^ "Twombly, Cy". 
  38. ^ Tacita Dean (July 6, 2011, Cy Twombly: a close encounter The Guardian
  39. ^ "NCCS Organization Profile – Cy Twombly Foundation".  
  40. ^ "CY TWOMBLY FOUNDATION ::". Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  41. ^ Josh Barbanel (May 30, 2012), Twombly Gets N.Y. Home Wall Street Journal.
  42. ^ Carol Vogel (2012-05-31). "Cy Twombly Foundation to Open Museum and Education Center in New York". ArtsBeat / The New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  43. ^ Randy Kennedy (2014-03-14). "Settlement Reached in Cy Twombly Foundation Lawsuit". ArtsBeat / The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2015. 
  44. ^ Carol Vogel (May 11, 2011), Bidding War for a Warhol Breaks Out at Christie’s New York Times.
  45. ^ Contemporary Art Evening Auction at Sotheby's on 9 May, 2012.
  46. ^ Art in America
  47. ^ Kelly Crow (November 13, 2014). "Christie’s Makes History With $853 Million Sale of Contemporary Art". WSJ. 
  48. ^ "BBC News, Painting meets its femme fatale". 
  49. ^ Le Figaro – Actualité en direct et informations en continu
  50. ^ One is art, one is vandalism – but which is which?, The Scotsman, October 10, 2007
  51. ^ "Woman Who Kissed Painting With Red Lipstick Gets Community Service". Fox News. 

External links

  • Cy Twombly: Comprehensive collection of more than 200 images of artist's works with biography, articles and exhibition information.
  • Idiosyncratic Painter dies at 83NY Times ArtsBeat, Cy Twombly,
  • From VOGUE to NEST: 032c activates the secret history of CY TWOMBLY by HORST P. HORST in 032, Issue No. 19, Summer 2010.
  • Gagosian Gallery: Cy Twombly
  • The Menil Collection: Cy Twombly
  • Roland Barthes, "Cy Twombly: Works on Paper" and "The Wisdom of Art" in The Responsibility of Forms University of California Press, 1991.
  • Cy Twombly "Blooming" at Gagosian Gallery on YouTube A James Kalm Report on Cy Twombly (video, 9:13).
  • Cy Twombly – Photographs 1951–2007, Huis Marseille – Museum for Photography
  • John Squire speaking about 4 paintings by Cy Twombly at Tate Modern (video) on YouTube
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