Cy Twombly - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 11, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galleria la Tartaruga, Rome
    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    James Jacobs, New York
    Jarold Evans, San Francisco
    Harcourts Modern and Contemporary Art, San Francisco
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1992)
    Christie's, New York, Post War and Contemporary Art, 14 May 2009, Lot 142
    Private Collection
    Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, 15 February, 2012, Lot 65
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘My line is childlike but not childish. It is very difficult to fake ... to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child's line. It has to be felt.’

    - CY TWOMBLY, 1994

    Edmond Parker Twombly, best known as Cy, sustained his existence largely on the periphery of the New York Expressionist scene. His sparse, unfeigned scrawls and his deeply elegiac engagement with a reliquary epoch drew him almost entirely from the vogue movements of post-war art in America. Despite this detachment, Twombly cultivated dear friendships with some of the leaders of the Expressionism movement, while managing to avert any explicit artistic affiliation. Electing to reside and work in Italy when the art world’s focus had only just shifted to New York, the artist effectively developed an aesthetic that was unmistakably his alone. Though he endured harsh criticism due to his challenging techniques, Twombly both preserved and expanded his calligraphic method of passionate abstraction until his death in 2011.

    Drawing timeless inspiration from poetry and classical history, Twombly’s expressive markings and humanistic motifs subtly allude to an idiosyncratic narrative coursing its way through the artist’s mind and onto the canvas. Once practicing his drawing in dark rooms to ensure his line retained an objective, he steadfastly revered his own muses, including handwriting and the keen relationship between words and image. According to his 1957 artistic statement, which remained his only written reflection on his work for nearly half a century, ‘Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate — it is the sensation of its own realisation.’ (Cy Twombly, ‘Signs,’ L’Esperienza moderna, no.2, August/September 1957, pp.32–3). Renouncing an equitable or descriptive line, Twombly responded sensually and intensely to the Greco-Roman settings in which he immersed himself in Italy.

    The present lot encapsulates the artist’s marked shift to the wholly subjective utilisation of erotic signifiers in his works. This emphasis on the erotic and its recurrent themes finds pronunciation in the pink and coppery red, which materialise from the robust turmoil of the strokes to acquire recognisable shapes. An erratically-rendered cluster of female breasts seems to sweep toward the male form centrally located, only to disintegrate into the lines whence they materialised. The comparable image Priapus, created just two years prior, employs the same antithetical narrative, as erect forms punctuating the picture plane’s edges capriciously approach the female sexual motif anchored at the centre. Releasing his process from a clear artistic lexicon as well as his academic education, Twombly desired to 'disconnect ... his hand from his eye in a subliminal and an unburdened mode.' (J. Lawrence, 'Cy Twombly's Cryptic Nature,' in Cy Twombly: Works from the Sonnabend Collection, London and New York, p. 13). The sexually-charged nature of the forms apparent in his work from the early 1960s may thus be construed through a lens of an invisible, formidable battle between the rational ego and aggressive id.

    The frenetic energy racing through Untitled, 1962 typifies the formative years of lyricism and complexity illustrated in the evolution of Twombly’s oeuvre. The prominent emergence of dark, more starkly opaque colours sharply contrasts with the alabaster background, providing an aberrant sense of depth in an otherwise turbulent composition. In an analogous vein, the artist’s exercise of colour is more formally and profoundly investigated in the comparable Lepanto VII from 2001, created in oil on canvas nearly four decades later. Chartreuse yellow dimly attempts to mask violently rendered dashes of claret red and crimson purple, with each colour oozing down the foreground, coalescing and transforming into a new iteration of his enlivened mark-making. The palette of Lepanto VII retains the sexually-charged magentas and copper colours that characterize the present lot, connoting the arc of development in Twombly's work. Initially interested in simple linear metaphors, his earlier compositions, sparsely constituted yet architecturally harmonious, reflect his craving to reinvigorate a primordial meaning. His exploration of colour as intersecting these structural concerns find their bearings in Untitled, 1962 only to transform more entirely and elegantly in his later paintings. Tracing its development throughout his work, Twombly’s animated and visceral dialect disentangles itself from its physical confines of paper, summoning us to engage with his forms through our unique conceptions of and singular dialogues with their portrayal.

    The cadences of line and colour and the carnal shapes strewn across the surface of the present lot encompass a lyrical promenade: at once vexing, poetic, sexual and intimate, their synthesis engenders a tale from the depths of memory and story. The work was painted shortly after Twombly’s move to Italy where the artist articulated a discourse with classical myth, creating several versions of his unparalleled interpretation of the story of Leda and the Swan. His delicate wisps, masses of erasures and marks, forms and fragments, are born in his drawings and mature in his paintings. When considered in his repertoire, his epic strokes transform into delicate repetitions, bewitching us and compelling us inward.

    On the news of Twombly’s death, the American art critic Jerry Saltz paid acute tribute to the integrated intensity of his art. 'You immediately know that they aren’t just action paintings or accidental splatters but are born of mind as much as body and they put Twombly on the art-historical map.’ (Jerry Saltz, ‘Jerry Saltz Celebrates the Life and Art of Cy Twombly,’ Vulture, 5 July 2011). Revisiting the perennial themes of death, sex, birth, love and violence, Twombly’s Untitled, 1962 allegorically and palpably embodies the manifold interplays of emotional stamina in lifetimes that came before and will exist after ours.

  • 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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graphite, oil stick and ink on Fabriano paper
50.2 x 69.9 cm (19.8 x 27.5 in.)
Signed and dated 'Cy Twombly 1962' on the reverse.

£350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for £482,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 12 February 2015 7pm