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  • Provenance

    Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich

  • Exhibited

    Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Cy Twombly, June 1 – September 28, 2007

  • Literature

    G. Frei, Cy Twombly, Thomas Ammann Fine Art AG, Zurich, 2007, pl. IV (illustrated)
    H. Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume V, 1996-2007, Munich 2009, pp. 149-150 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Each line now is 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 the private or separate indulgences rather than an abstract totality of visual perception. This is very difficult to describe, but it is an involvement in essence no matter how private into a synthesis of feeling, intellect etc. occurring without separation in the impulse of action. CY TWOMBLY

    (Cy Twombly, “Documenti di una nuova figurazione: Toti Scialoja, Gastone Novelli, Pierre Alechinsky, Achille Perilli, Cy Twombly,” L’Esperienza moderna, no. 2 (August-September 1957) , p. 32.)

    Cy Twombly, in one of the final paintings of his life, ultimately presents each element from his many series’ of works as interdependent. He cleverly integrates his many styles—the single line, the overlapping loops, the monochrome background, and rich bloodied red pigment—in a multiplelayered mystery. Untitled, 2006 is both constrained and explosive in its graphic clarity, rhythmical fluidity, lyrical elegance, and expressive calligraphy. Twombly presents what appears to be a multiple lines of text in a rhetoric that exceeds our realm of language. Instead, the poetry the flows from the interlacing lassos tells the story of a total artist; one who has not only reinterpreted the world around him, but also who has integrated his many interpretations into an ultimate autobiographical portrait. Untitled, 2006 presents a pictorial language that celebrates both the painterly and graphic arts, as well as the artist and his oeuvre.

    The present lot is from a series of paintings which were all completed in the autumn of 2006 in Cy Twombly’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia. Each work, while unique in character, shares a vertical format and similar height, with slight variations in width. Each painting is untitled and depicts crimson red lines flowing in circular motions reminiscent of handwriting. The red scripture is laid out on a monochrome ground, a recognizable feature of the artist’s various bodies of work. The lines fluctuate in thickness, superimposing a sense of three-dimensionality as the red pigment flows across the canvas with great fluidity and energy. The densely layered lines swell and break off, and even come to a halt as they move across the picture plane in what seems like an ecstatic dance. Flowing with a dynamism that brims with both script and symbol and order and chaos, and in a final celebration of color, texture and form.

    Twombly employs two acrylic colors in the making of, Untitled, 2006: the lighttoned paint of the background, applied with a broad brush, and the iron oxide red of the foreground, a pigment applied with a brush approximately 2 inches wide. The gentle cream colored ground infuses the red with a deep glow that radiates with intensity. Untitled is divided into four main horizontal sections: it begins at the top left with the initials “C.T.” followed by a garland of paint. Three horizontal rows follow below, each increasing in magnitude as the lines approach the bottom of the canvas. The linked “l” shapes of the first line are narrow and closely connected, even recognizable in form; in the second section, the script becomes more loosely connected, culminating in a peak at the center; and finally, in the third section, the script moves across the lower regiment of the canvas with overlapping chaos, losing its form almost entirely in its bold and vital strokes. The coagulated red paint at the beginning and end of each section forms watery rivulets of paint that run down the sides of the canvas with an atmospheric effect. The familiar shape of the “l” invites us to attempt a reading of the canvas; however, Twombly’s hand betrays no hint of discernable text, instead mesmerizing us with a continuous flow of pigment.

    The overlapping and billowing handwriting is tour-de-force in its nuances of tone, brightness, and saturation. Untitled, 2006, conveys the tension between liberated gesture and observance of boundaries; a small space is left between the left edge of the canvas and the start of each line. The writing is selfcontained in the first prominent line, staying clear of the right edge of the canvas; however, in the second line, the arm of the “l” dangerously approaches the edge. In the last section, Twombly defies all notions of orderly propriety as the writing skips off the edge, continuing its motion beyond the boundaries of the canvas. These variations evoke the fluidity of paint during the act of painting, capturing energy and speed in a transient moment.

    While the “l” shape and the palpable streams are two of Twombly’s most recognizable forms, it is the “O” shape that is such a striking component of Untitled. It evokes an impression of lightness in the work, untainted by the skeins of paint and chaos of the looped shapes. It creates a clear focus in the composition, surrounded by movement and bold gesture, reminiscent of the artist’s earlier works. Twombly has made frequent use of the “O” shape; as seen in Olympia, 1957, the canvas is interspersed with ovoid shapes, even forming the title, which is scrawled in the lower right quadrant. While Olympia, 1957 is a chaotic composition filled with bustling forms and quick gestures, the “O” shapes form legible text. It is this association to his earlier works which prompts us to reflect on the development of Twombly’s symbolic language in the present lot. His forms have developed into abstract signs which, despite their illegibility, create a mode of communication, concealing the artist’s narrative therein. “The Imagery,” as Twombly has said, “is one of the private or separate indulgencies rather than an abstract totality of visual perception.”

    In Leda and the Swan (Rome), 1962, we see Twombly’s abandonment of script in favor of figurative and prominent imagery. The subject of Jupiter assuming the form of a swan to ravish the beautiful Leda is rendered in a fantastical confusion of crayon, pencil, and paint. A few recognizable signs emerge from the mass at the center of the painting; flying heart shapes, a crimson mountain peak, feathers and flesh spray from the explosion of the fateful moment from which Helen, and thus ultimately the Trojan War, is born. A rectangular form—a window—is placed above the explosion, untouched by the flying shapes and colors of the central eruption. The window in Leda and the Swan (Rome), 1962, provides boundaries to the gestural and scattered urgency of the pigment. In this way it prefigures the tension between the boundaries of the canvas and gestural strokes of his brush that Twombly achieved in his later works. The written, and then scrawled over words in the lower left corner yield a hybrid of painting and poetry emanating from the artist’s surges of expression.

    The fireworks of color evident in Leda and the Swan (Rome), 1962, fade in the following year to a more limited and controlled palette comprised of bloodreds, deep maroon, brown, and white. Twombly made several works in this palette throughout the following year; however, Discourse on Commodus, 1963, a painting in nine parts, emerges as the summation of this period. The dark subject matter—a psychotic Roman emperor whose reign is one of cruel excess—is confronted with thick clumps of dripping red paint which fall down the vertical canvas. Each of the nine canvases is primed with a dove-grey ground, providing a smooth monochrome backdrop for the violently applied paint on the foreground. Much like the present lot, this backdrop gives the composition elegance and dynamism, as it contrasts with the luminous red pigment. With its grounding in the tradition of European expressionism, the nine canvases stood in direct opposition to Pop Art and hard-edged minimalism of the 1960s. The visceral paintings embodied everything that was suspect in the eyes of Twombly’s Pop counterparts. When the panels premiered at Castelli Gallery in 1964, they were considered woefully out of step. We now recognize that they were ahead of their time.

    Perhaps it was this criticism that led Twombly to his grey paintings of the late 60s and 70s. The catalogue of his work shows twenty canvases from 1964, and virtually none from 1965. When he resumed in 1966, it was with an entirely new direction—a new cycle of dark grey-ground canvases. This new body of work stood in direct contrast to the color and violence of the works completed in the 60s. Later, stripped of gestural form and emotional energies, the works of the 70s became isolated studies of lines. As seen in Untitled, 1970, Twombly sends a flurry of white, curving lines across the canvas. Divided into clear sections, the running loops emerge as an exercise in repetition, as if a schoolchild were learning to write. Twombly employs a linear continuity that had specifically been excluded in earlier works like Discourse on Commodus, 1963. The white lines wrap around themselves, yet provide three clear lines of loops. While the first two lines are somewhat contained and regular, the final section shows no beginning or end, and runs beyond the confines of the canvas into the space beyond- much like the wet and visceral final line of the present lot. Untitled, 1970, seems to begin with a studious and practiced gesture, but enters a realm of complete chaos in its final section.

    The adoption of the run-on scroll seems to be an expression built on Minimalist reduction. Yet, while Twombly eschewed rich colors and gestural freedom for the remainder of the Twentieth Century, his final paintings re-adopted the drama of Leda and the Swan (Rome), the bloodied red pigment of Commodus, and the curving lines of his dark-ground canvases. The present lot, Untitled, 2006, with its registers of lines—alternatively stumbling, halting, and grandly sweeping—is akin to hearing a series of musical movements. The constant inscription of motion permits no sense of time, as they spread tenderly and tenaciously across the canvas. The blazing luminous forms are loaded with tense energy, offering an escape in their rhythms and physical intensity. The untamed music in the present lot becomes louder and louder and swells in its final section with an unstoppable crescendo, its boundlessness reflecting itself beyond all rhetorical interpretation and historical formalisms.

    The vertical format of the painting, its light colored background, and the organization of the cursive lines invite us to “read” the present lot like the page of a book. Twombly introduces himself at the top of his text with his initials and then, withdrawing from any legible writing and coherent language, begins a non-verbal narrative. His brush produces shapes that recall cursive handwriting, and tells the story of sloping lines and dripping rivulets. The vitality of the signs promotes a desire to read and interpret them; however, existing in their own realm of symbology, they are destined to remain obscure. The challenge of deciphering the text is as much part of the painting as the visual drama of its mystery. At the end of his seven-decade career, Twombly unites all the contradictory elements of his oeuvre. In Untitled, 2006, Twombly shows us depth in disorder.

  • Artist Biography

    Cy Twombly

    American • 1928 - 2011

    Cy Twombly emerged in the mid-1950s alongside New York artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. While at first developing a graffiti-like style influenced by Abstract Expressionist automatism–having notably studied under Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell at the legendary Black Mountain College between 1951 and 1952–Twombly was a prominent figure in the new generation of artists that challenged the abstract orthodoxy of the New York School. Twombly developed a highly unique pictorial language that found its purest expression upon his life-defining move to Rome in 1957. Simultaneously invoking classical history, poetry, mythology and his own contemporary lived experience, Twombly's visual idiom is distinguished by a remarkable vocabulary of signs and marks and the fusion of word and text. 

    Cy Twombly produced graffiti-like paintings that were inspired by the work of Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell. His gestural forms of lines, drips and splattering were at first not well-received, but the artist later became known as the leader of the estrangement from the Abstract Expressionism movement. Full of energy and rawness, Twombly's pieces are reminiscent of childhood sketches and reveal his inspiration from mythology and poetry.

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acrylic on canvas
84 3/4 x 66 in. (215 x 167.8 cm)
Signed “CT” upper left.

$8,000,000 - 12,000,000 

Sold for $9,042,500

Contemporary Art Part I

7 November 2011
New York