Cy Twombly - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Marisa del Re Gallery Inc., New York
    Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above)
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1990

  • Exhibited

    Dallas, Southern Methodist University: Meadows School of the Arts, Cy Twombly: paintings and drawings, 1980

  • Catalogue Essay

    Exemplifying Cy Twombly’s unique draughtsmanship, Untitled belongs to an idiosyncratic series of works on paper that the artist created around 1971, numbering coloured blocks and scrawls across muted surfaces. Correlating free-floating forms with signs and language, the present work deploys 24 coloured pigments along an elongated folded paper support, taking on the appearance of a sporadically assembled colour-chart. Executed in gouache, oil pastel and graphite, Untitled demonstrates Twombly’s deft exploration of media, alternating precise lines, smudged forms and energetic scribbles. Seemingly dedicated to Twombly’s publisher of prints Sergio Tosi, the work’s upper portion displays a preface of sorts, reading ‘For Sergio Tossi, Picture in 24 colors, June 16 1971’.

    Building on Twombly’s highly expressive practice, Untitled displays an array of marks and colourful hues that together build an unclear system of calculation. Challenging perceived distinctions between painting and drawing, and mapping progressions between text and image, the present work embodies Twombly’s belief that the line ‘does not illustrate’, but rather ‘is the sensation of its own realisation’ (Cy Twombly, quoted in ‘Signs’, L’Esperienza moderna, no. 2, August/September 1957, pp. 32–33). Transcending mere designation, Twombly’s mark-making holds the pulsating energy of the artist’s hand; as Roland Barthes observed, it is imbued ‘with the same non-figurative, non-semantic gesture, a gesture that was simply rhythmical’ (Roland Barthes, ‘La sociologie de l'art et sa vocation interdisciplinaire’, Coloquio/Artes, Lisbon, 1974, pp. 18-19).

    It has been noted that Twombly’s greatest influence was perhaps his experience as a cryptologist in the US army in the early 1950s. There, he learned mysterious and perfunctory techniques of secure communication, including a method of repetition that doubtlessly informed his artistic language of codes and cyphers. As such, Twombly’s unique practice of ‘expressive immediacy’ fashioned an oeuvre that combines geometric shapes, expressive marks and the didacticism of architectural sketches. While developing a graffiti-like aesthetic influenced by Abstract Expressionist automatism, having studied under Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell at Black Mountain College between 1951 and 1952, the artist prominently challenged the orthodoxy of the New York School and developed a highly personal pictorial language that found its purest expression during his time in Rome.

    Spanning two columns of numbers arranged in ascending order, the 24 colours within the present work denote a linearity that betrays Twombly’s ability to exploit methods of repetition, in ways that successfully convey a sense of movement. His ‘fascination for the forms of lateral speed’ and 'language of flow' is reminiscent of the dynamic imagery pervading 1950s Futurism (Kirk Varnedoe, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1994, p. 41). Yet, unlike the Futurists from this period, Twombly ‘responded more intuitively…neither geometry nor straight edges ever dominate the variations of the hand as it moves, from tremulous slowness to headline impulse to casual meander. Fluctuating individual energies invariably take precedence over rigorously systematic ideas’ (Kirk Varnedoe, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1994, p. 41).

    Equally, Twombly’s Untitled is evocative of works that explore the idea of numbering; a theme particularly popular among 1960s Minimalists, for whom calculation and the notion of the grid satisfied a desire to celebrate organic formalism in art. In a more conceptual vein, Mario Merz’s installations of numbered neons equally evoke the idea of an unknowable formula, integrated within the artist’s visual language. Like Merz’s sequenced works, Untitled professes its maker’s intimate lexicon, outstaged by and mythologised through the iconic form with which it is achieved.

    Twombly’s command of pictorial nuance, balancing expressiveness and rigour, summons an incomparable gesture that Pierre Restany aptly synthesised in 1987: '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’ (Pierre Restany, quoted in Harald Szeemann, Cy Twombly: Paintings, Works on Paper, Sculpture, exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich, 1987, p. 25).

  • 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.

    View More Works



inscribed, dedicated and dated 'for Sergio Tossi "picture in 24 colors" June 16-71' upper centre
gouache, oil pastel and graphite on paper
86.8 x 35 cm (34 1/8 x 13 3/4 in.)
Executed on 16 June 1971, this work will be included in the Addendum to the Catalogue Raisonné of Cy Twombly Drawings, edited by Nicola Del Roscio.

£300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for £495,000

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019