Cy Twombly - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Generally speaking my art has evolved out of the interest in symbols abstracted, but never the less humanistic; formal as most arts are in their archaic and classic stages, and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time.”
    —Cy Twombly

    Possessing something of the impassive monumentality and smooth surfaces of granite, ‘impenitent Abstract Expressionist’ Cy Twombly’s collages from the 1970s combine restrained and elegant geometries with the more muted palette adopted by the artist in the pivotal Blackboard paintings that preoccupied him between 1966 and 1971. Strikingly three dimensional, the alternating striations of chalky whites and slate greys lend this untitled 1973 collage a rhythmic vitality and refined simplicity that connects it to the looping calligraphic lines of the Blackboard paintings even as it moves Twombly into more conventionally Minimalist territory.


    Closely related to Twombly’s series Gladings (Love’s Infinite Causes), the present work belongs to a smaller suite of five collages – including one very closely related composition currently held in the permanent collection of The Broad in Los Angeles. All executed on a larger scale and adopting the same tight, diagonal arrangement of forms in a darker hued palette, these collages sharply counterpoint the gestural exuberance and dominant pink and white tones of his large-scale paintings from the 1960s, aligning the artist for a brief moment with the abstract minimalism developed by Richard Diebenkorn across his Ocean Park series.


    [Left] Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1973, The Broad, Los Angeles. Artwork: © Cy Twombly Foundation 
    [Right] Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park No. 79, 1975, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977, 1977-28-1, Artwork: © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 


    Executed in 1973 as Twombly was garnering significant critical and institutional recognition, the present work is composed of three major elements: a horizontal strip of paper featuring Twombly’s looping signature, a large square sheet, and longer strips of painted paper and transparent adhesive tape that connect the two in their diagonal arrangement. Long, raking lines of blue and white crayon cover the whole work, uniting these disparate elements into a harmonious whole. Recalling his brief experimentation with chalked canvases in the 1950s, during this period Twombly returned again to these darker grounds, debuting three such paintings as part of an exhibition mounted in Turin in the early months of 1967. As renowned Twombly scholar Kirk Varnedoe describes, ‘Just as those earlier pictures had represented a cooling shift away from painterly and erotic energies, these new canvases were lean and unemotional, in contrast to the Baroque colour and violence of the work of the early 1960s.’ii


    Nevertheless, the present work also records important lines of continuation from these earlier paintings, notably in its demonstration of the depth and complexity of Twombly’s philosophical and aesthetic interest in temporality. While the scarred and graffiti-etched surfaces of his Baroque Paintings speak powerfully to the artist’s fascination for a kind of deep vertical or ‘geological’ time, built up over millennia and recorded in the strata of rocks or modes of ancient mark-making, these more rational, geometric arrangements recall an early 20th century avant-garde interest in capturing the unfolding of time in pictorial space through the visual representation of dynamic, sequential movement, one that was crystalised in the painterly language of Italian Futurists Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni.

    “Twombly seems […] to have responded more intuitively to the way the Futurists dispersed forms into linear sequences and made analytic rigour collide with onrushing flux.’’
    —Kirk Varnedoe

    In its muted palette and fracturing of form into sharply delineated planes, the present work especially recalls Marcel Duchamp’s pivotal Nu descendendant un escalier, establishing an important link between these collages and a legacy of European avant-garde experiment that extends beyond Futurism into the experiments of Analytical Cubism and the visual language of cinema. Although quite distinct from Dada’s embrace of chance and accident, Twombly’s arrangement of paper strips here also evokes something of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz collages, their richly layered surfaces and fragments of text compared by art historian Roger Cardinal as ‘those rubbish pits that transmit a narrative of daily life to archaeologists concerned with the material culture of a lost society.’iii


    [Left] Marcel Duchamp, Nu descendendant un escalier no. 2 (Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2), 1912, The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977, 1977-28-1, Artwork: © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2023

    [Right] Kurt Schwitters, Zeichnung A2, Hansao, 1918, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence

    During the late 1960s and early 1970s when Twombly was working on these collages, the artist was also moving between the Italy that he had made his home and the America where he had been born, enjoying a period of significant critical and institutional recognition. Spending longer stretches in New York working in studios in the Bowery and on Canal Street during the 1960s, we might perhaps find traces of the gridded city and its towering glass and metal skyscrapers at work in the geometric arrangement of forms here. Most pressingly, these years were also dominated by the Space Race and the proliferation of discussion around space-time, mathematical precision, and careful calculation that attended it, echoed too in the cool Minimalism of Michael Fried and Donald Judd that dominated the New York art scene during this period.   


    Sublime in its formal simplicity, this untitled collage encapsulates Twombly’s synthesis of Minimalism’s mid-century rationality with earlier avant-garde investigations into visual representations of our experience of space and time. Even with his most diagrammatic and geometrically rigid compositions, the sense of flowing energy is palpable, exceeding its own boundaries in every direction.


    Collector’s Digest

    • Educated in the 1950s at Black Mountain College under Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly is one of the most innovative and influential artists of the postwar generation. Known for his expressive and gestural line work, the artist utilises a mixture of imagery, text and abstraction to create his own unique artistic language.
      Painting until his death in 2011, Twombly’s work has been the subject of several major retrospectives. Initially at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1968, more recently these have been held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York between 1994-1995; Tate Modern, London in 2008; and The Centre Pompidou, Paris between 2016-2017.



    i Simon Schama, ‘Cy Twombly’, Cy Twombly: Fifty Years of Works on Paper, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2003, p. 16.

    ii Kirk Varnedoe, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, 1990, p. 40.

    iii Roger Cardinal, ‘Collecting and Collage-Making: The Case of Kurt Scwitters’, in John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, eds., The Cultures of Collecting, London, 1994, pp. 84-85.

    • Provenance

      Lucio Amelio, Naples
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Nicola Del Roscio, Cy Twombly, Drawings, Cat. Rais. Vol. 6 1972-1979, Munich, 2016, no. 56, p. 64 (illustrated, incorrectly orientated)

    • 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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Property of a Distinguished Private European Collection



signed with the artist’s initials and dated ‘CT 73' upper left; signed and dated ‘Cy Twombly 1973’ on the reverse
collage, oil, wax crayon, pencil, tape and staples on paper
75.7 x 69.5 cm (29 3/4 x 27 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1973.

Full Cataloguing

£800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for £914,400

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023