Cy Twombly - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Delivering the impressive impact of Cy Twombly’s unique pictorial language, Untitled is a vivid example of the “whorl” works that the artist created in 1964. A flurry of scribbles, scratches and loops coalesce into an abstract composition that is simultaneously delicate and dynamic—punctuated by subtle bursts of red and blue color, and anchored by four dominant monument-like rectangular structures. Created during a spurt of creativity between July and August 1964, Untitled belongs to a suite of nineteen drawings called Notes from a Tower that Twombly embarked on at Castel Gardena, a Renaissance castle in the Italian Alps where he regularly summered. Charged with frenetic energy, other examples from this series reside in prominent collections, such as that of Jasper Johns, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, the latter previously belonging to fellow artist Roy Lichtenstein. Executed at a pivotal point in the artist’s career, Untitled suspends the viewer in a moment of spirited sublimity.



    Julie Mehretu, Untitled, 2004. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Julie Mehretu


    "When I work, I work very fast, but preparing to work can take any length of time."
    —Cy Twombly


    Created seven years after the artist’s career-defining move to Rome in 1957, the present work epitomizes the revolutionary visual idiom that Twombly developed in response to the mythical past of his surroundings and his immediate experiences in Italy. In 1957, he expressed, “Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate — it is the sensation of its own realization.”i While his American counterparts were finding inspiration in Pop culture or Minimalism, Twombly, ever the contrarian, was developing a series of groundbreaking works inspired by the epic and dramatic panoramas and classical landscapes of the High Renaissance and Baroque.



    Wassily Kandinsky, Untitled, 1940. Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Image: Digital Image © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    Wassily Kandinsky, Untitled, 1940. Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Image: Digital Image © CNAC/MNAM, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris



    Untitled is emblematic of the seminal body of work that Twombly created in the 1960s, widely considered as a critical and extremely fertile period in his long and illustrious career. As Simon Schama has observed, “Twombly’s creative energy erupts, turning out an extended series of untitled compositions in which pictograms and ideograms…swim and seethe in a broth of jittery action.”ii While Twombly’s 1961-1963 series of works frequently referenced specific classical tales as a point of departure, the present work demonstrates how, starting in 1964, Twombly’s work is characterized by that which Roland Barthes termed a “Mediterranean effect”: a topology of references constituting, “an enormous complex of memories and sensations…a historical, mythological, poetic culture, this whole life of forms, colors and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea.”iii 


    Cy Twombly in Rome, Italy. Horst P. Horst for Vogue, 1966, Image and Artwork: Horst P Horst/​Condé Nast/​Shutterstoc

    Cy Twombly in Rome, Italy. Horst P. Horst for Vogue, 1966, Image and Artwork:
    Horst P Horst/Condé Nast/Shutterstock


    The drawings Twombly created in the summer of 1964 at the Castel Gardena represent a crucial stage in the formal evolution of Twombly’s oeuvre in that period. Twombly began work on this series shortly after completing the triptych Ilium titled One Morning Ten Years Later, 1964, in Rome; Part I of this work resides in The Broad Museum, Los Angeles. While drawing upon the events leading up to the Trojan War, as detailed in Homer’s epic The Iliad, Twombly creates an ambivalent scene, evocative of a frenzied battle, but also a “deliberately eroticized apotheosis of life and death.”iv Through his experimentations in his Notes from a Tower series, Twombly further developed these iconographic themes, in anticipation of his solo exhibition The Artist in the Northern Climate at the Galerie Friedrich + Dahlen, Munich, in the autumn of 1964 where he exhibited a selection of the Castel Gardena drawings alongside ten paintings created for the exhibition. While resuming the visual dialogue with the Notes from a Tower works, these paintings introduced an unprecedented level of formal reduction that was characterized by an emphasis on the dominant rectangular structures. Situated at this critical juncture, Untitled articulates an important evolution in Twombly’s practice, which culminated in the artist’s celebrated mid–1960s monochromatic, grey paintings.


    i Cy Twombly, quoted in “Signs,” L’Esperienza moderna, no. 2, August/September 1957, pp. 32–33.
    ii Simon Schama, Cy Twombly Fifty Years of Works on Paper, exh. cat., State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 2003, p. 14.
    iii Roland Barthes, quoted in “The Wisdom of Art,” in Nicola Del Roscio, ed., Writings on Cy Twombly, Munich, 2002, p. 19.
    iv Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume II, 1961-1965, Munich, 1993, p. 30.

    • Provenance

      Ugo Ferranti, Rome
      Locksley Shea Gallery, Minneapolis
      Estate of John M. and Marion A. Shea, Palm Springs
      Christie’s, New York, November 19, 1997, lot 328
      Private Collection, Belgium
      Van de Weghe Fine Art, New York
      Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above)
      Phillips, London, March 8, 2018, lot 12
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Newport Beach, Harbor Art Museum; Madison, Elvehjem Museum of Art; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Cy Twombly. Works on Paper 1954 – 1976, October 2, 1981 – October 17, 1982, no. 14, p. 37 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Nicola del Roscio, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonne of Drawings, 1964-1969, vol. IV, New York, 2014, no. 51, p. 57 (illustrated)

    • 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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signed and dated "Cy Twombly 1964" lower edge; signed, inscribed and dated "Cy Twombly Val Gardena aug 1964" on the reverse
pencil, colored pencil and ballpoint pen on paper
27 1/2 x 39 in. (69.9 x 99.1 cm)
Executed in 1964.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $786,250

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
New York Head of Department & Head of Auctions
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021