Sperlonga drawing

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  • Provenance

    Giulio Turcato, Rome
    Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London
    Acquired from the above by the late owner in July 1996

  • Literature

    Nicola Del Roscio, CY TWOMBLY. Catalogue Raisonné of Drawings, vol. 2, 1956 - 1960, Munich, 2012, no. 142, p. 176 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Gesturally rendered in paint, crayon and graphite on paper, Cy Twombly’s Sperlonga drawing, executed in 1959, belongs to a succinct body of work which the artist commenced during his summer stay in the Italian seaside town inbetween Naples and Rome. Gifted to the esteemed artist Giulio Turcato, who, in 1958, had been honoured at the Venice Biennale with a curated room at the 29th Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Città di Venezia, the present work on paper was created in Sperlonga the year following Turcato’s exhibition and has been housed in the Karshan collection since 1996. Marking a pivotal moment in Twombly’s personal life, the artist’s body of Sperlonga works are integral when looking at the artist’s wider oeuvre and represent a key turning point in his artistic development, with notable examples represented in major public and private international institutions. Transporting us to the coast of Italy the present work is charged with the sublime light of the Mediterranean, evoking the landscape of the fishing village on the Tyrrhenian sea.

    Having first travelled to Europe in 1952 visiting both Naples and Rome and then again in 1957, Twombly married Luisa Tatiana Franchetti at New York City Hall in April 1959. Soon integrated into her network of European and Italian friends and relatives, Twombly travelled to Rome in June with his new wife, embarking on a life-long fascination with the country. Twombly rented an apartment in the small fishing village of Sperlonga with Franchetti who was expecting the couple’s child. Famed for its ancient Roman history, a sea grotto was discovered on the grounds of the villa of Tiberius in 1957, two years prior to the execution of the present work, unveiling a series of exquisite carved marble sculptures that captured narratives from Homer’s Odyssey. Set into a rocky hollow, these magnificent white Sperlonga marbles are a celebration of the Hellenistic style and showcase an artistic culmination of art and nature. Creating around thirty-two mixed media drawings and nineteen collages during this summer as well as his twenty-four part Poems to the Sea, Twombly’s rich corpus of Sperlonga works toyed with negative space, exposing large areas of open paper within the composition, evocative of the fresh sea breeze and expanse of sky.

    Integrating dashes, circles, symbols and numbers into his Sperlonga drawing, the present work showcases Twombly’s progressive experimentation with visual syntax and mark-marking. Through his delicate and bold strokes, Twombly’s Sperlonga drawings mark this juncture and also celebrate the rhythmic tide and power of the Tyrrhenian sea. Influenced by the poetry of Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé, whose use of white space, blanks and cadent marks toyed with typography, Twombly’s Sperlonga drawings allude to Mallarmé’s shipwreck poem Un Coup de Dés, channelling a literary poesy in visual form. As noted by Kirk Varnedoe, Twombly’s ‘drawings from Sperlonga though, initiated a more paradoxical combination of elements, which would inform Twombly’s paintings for years thereafter. The pencilwork introduced a family of “rationalized”, diagrammatic elements … sequences of numbers; circles and repeated semicircles; and clusters of forms that suggest overhead, plan views of unknown arrangements.…The resultant drawings – with their long horizontality, dispersed and often miniaturized signs, and references to rational mapping – seem to join the Poems to the Sea in opening up a new, specifically landscape-like space in Twombly’s work’ (Kirk Varnedoe, ‘Inscriptions in Arcadia’, in, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1994, p. 31-32).

    With its white washed walls and sun bleached buildings, Sperlonga provided a stimulating palette for Twombly’s experimentations with colour and form. In the same way that Twombly’s contemporary Robert Ryman utilised a largely white palette, so Twombly sought to find tonal variation in the palest of white paint application. Evoking Mallarmé’s white poetic blanks as well as the break and crest of the waves, Twombly’s white swathes and daubing of thick white paint applied in horizontal strokes and droplets, mirror the sea swell on the horizon as well as pools of collected gleaming water. Remarking on the intrigue of white, Twombly reflected ‘The reality of whiteness may exist in the duality of sensation (as the multiple anxiety of desire and fear). Whiteness can be the classic state of the intellect, or a neo-romantic of remembrance- or as the symbolic whiteness of Mallarmé’ (Cy Twombly, ‘Documenti di una nuova figurazione: Toti Scialoja, Gastone Novelli, Pierre Alechinsky, Achille Perilli, Cy Twombly’, in L’Esperienza moderna, no. 2, August – September 1957, p. 32). The effect of the Mediterranean would have a profound effect on the artist’s work from this point onwards, integrating its wealth of ancient history, art and mythology into his varied practice. As Barthes comments on Twombly’s work, ‘The Mediterranean is an enormous complex of memories and sensations: certain languages (Greek and Latin) which are present in Twombly’s titles, a historical, mythological, poetic culture, this whole life of forms, colors and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and plain of the sea. The inimitable art of Twombly consists in having imposed the Mediterranean effect while starting from materials (scratches, smudges smears, little color, no academic forms) which have no analogy with the great Mediterranean radiance’ (Roland Barthes, ‘The Wisdom of Art’, in Cy Twombly. Paintings and Drawings 1954 – 1977, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1979, p. 16).

    An essential cornerstone of Twombly’s body of work, the summer spent in Sperlonga in 1959 established a central shift in the artist’s output and personal life. With his marriage in spring and the birth of his son in December of 1959, Twombly’s exploration of medium and form unite in the present work, a visual celebration of the Mediterranean landscape, lyricism and history. Returning to Sperlonga in 1963 to revisit the town which had proved so influential to his practice, Twombly’s fascination with mythology and poetry is evident throughout his influential oeuvre which was shaped by the artist’s experiences that summer in 1959.

  • Artist Bio

    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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Ο9

A Tale of Two Cities: Property from the Estate of Howard Karshan

Sperlonga drawing

signed and dedicated 'to Turcato, Cy Twombly' lower right
oil-based house paint, pencil and wax crayon on paper
70 x 100 cm (27 1/2 x 39 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1959.

Estimate
£350,000 - 550,000 

sold for £1,149,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018