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Blood, Flesh, Earth, Mirror, Clouds: Cy Twomblys Untitled from 1962 pictures the space between terra firma and firmament, word and image. In this work a symbolic key of text and its formal equivalent is placed in opposition to the fragment of Sapphic verse that lines the paintings lower edge. Written in the artists cursive hand, Sappho: But then heart turned cold + they dropped their wings, conjures the distant echo of an ancient mythological language. What lies between is the artists palette, and within the palettes curvilinear border sits the miraculous and malleable matter of painting itself. This work forms an extraordinary treatise on the poetic portent of the artist and his craft; it is a self-portrait that offers a contemplative image of a creative mind at the height of its power. Born of an incredibly fertile moment in Twomblys career, Untitled gives expression to the philosophical space that his paintings occupy: between corporeality and intangibility, between signifier and signified. Anchored by Sapphos melancholic expression of lost love, Twombly here ruminates on the very nature of his art.\nThe early 1960s denote the most significant and consequential phase of Cy Twomblys revolutionary artistic career. By the winter of 1960 the American artist and his new Italian wife Tatiana Franchetti had settled in a new apartment, a large seventeenth-century residence on via Monserrato, near the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, and by the following winter Twombly had taken up a studio in Largo del Biscione, near Campo deFiori. It was between these two locations that the artist brought to life the most decisive paintings of his Italian period: encompassing the feverish Ferragosto paintings, the amorous Leda and the Swan works, the nine-part Discourse on Commodus and other masterpieces such as School of Athens, Bay of Naples, and Birth of Venus, the works produced between 1961 and 1963 are today considered the very best of his career. Untitled from 1962 emphatically belongs to this period of pioneering achievement.\nThe words Blood, Flesh, and Earth touch upon scatological themes of violence and Eros in arcadia concerns that had utterly dominated Twomblys output for the entirety of the previous year as does the application of correlative pigment: smeared and thrown marks notably made with the artists bare hands. In opposition to these distinctly terrestrial attributes, the word Mirror rests below an oval of silvery graphite. By invoking the ultimate vehicle of self-reflection, Twombly alludes to the art historical canon of self-portraiture and the tradition of artist self-images typically painted in front of a mirror. That the French nineteenth-century poet Stéphane Mallarmé also wrote in front of a mirror was surely not lost on an artist for whom language and image were utterly indivisible; indeed, for Twombly, Mallarmés poetic elevation of symbolic whiteness was of crucial importance. The notion of linguistic silence and its pictorial equivalent blank space and white paint brings us to the final facet of Twomblys key here rendered in brilliant white: Clouds. The supplementary adage white for diluting dreams, which appears as an annotation next to the central palette, posits a distinctly ethereal and elevated realm of poetic otherworldliness, invoking the mythological gods in their firmament. Lodged between heaven and earth, this painting delivers a metaphysical insight into Twomblys thoughts on painting.\nOn the occasion of Cy Twomblys 2008 retrospective at Tate Modern, art historian Claire Daigle used Untitled as a visual key to decrypt the symbolic driving forces behind Twomblys illusive and elusive lifes work. As an academic who wrote her thesis on Barthes and Twombly, Daigles introduction and its use of the present painting in her article, 'Cy Twombly: Lingering at the Threshold Between Word and Image', for Tate Etc provides an extraordinary entry point into this artists beautiful, yet highly esoteric, abstract works, works, no less, that reside in and explore the inchoate space between language and image:\n"In 1962 Cy Twombly (born 1928 in Lexington, Virginia) painted a work that illustrates many of the abiding engagements of his practice. Untitled is divided into two zones by a horizontal line about two thirds of the way up. Across the bottom edge of the canvas, Twombly has scribbled a textual fragment gleaned from the poet Sappho: But their heart turned cold + they dropped their wings. The phrase, suggesting a hovering between higher and lower realms, conjures up a distant classical realm, even as the grappling, awkward hand renders the words materially present. In the upper third of the canvas, the artist provides a code for viewing: a white circle swirled with pink is labelled blood; an aggressive red x reads flesh, a glutinous dollop of brown paint, earth or possibly youth; a delicate disc of wispy white paint, clouds; and a shiny coin-shaped form in graphite pencil, mirror. Beneath this code, Twombly has rendered, within a drawn frame, an array of possibilities for mark-making per se, as though to set them apart from the more direct references of words. The elements of the code come from three distinct experiential fields: the elemental (earth and clouds), the somatic (flesh and blood) and the subjective (mirror). And they can be mapped on to three corresponding traditional genres of oil painting, respectively: landscape, figure and self-portraiture. In Untitled we see Twomblys invocation of myth and poetry, his wavering between high and low and his sustained dwelling on the threshold where writing becomes drawing or painting. Perhaps most importantly, we see in this painting how marks and words in collaboration and counter-distinction construct meaning differently. As John Berger has written, Twombly visualises with living colours the silent space that exists between and around words.\nAlthough his work resonates strongly with generations of younger artists, ranging from Brice Marden to Richard Prince to Tacita Dean to Patti Smith, it has a general propensity to polarise its audience between perplexity and unbridled admiration. (Remember the incident last summer of a woman planting a lipstick kiss on a Twombly canvas on show in Lyon) Additionally, the critical and historical reception has seemed to describe two Twomblys one about form, the other about content. Some writers have concentrated on the materiality of the artists mark as aggressive, often illegible graffiti; others have followed the classical allusions to ferret out the references. Two elements might serve as metaphors for the predominant interpretations: the floating disc of white paint labelled clouds standing for the poetic and mythological aspects, and the scatological heap of brown paint designating earth. However, Twomblys painterly palimpsests trace the progressions through which form and content, text and image are inextricably linked" (Claire Daigle, Cy Twombly: Lingering at the Threshold Between Word and Image, Tate Etc., No. 13, Summer 2008, online).\nUntitled marks an interstitial moment between the impassioned and scatological use of paint that typifies works directly inspired by bloody or amorous mythological tales, and the increasing restraint and graphic pre-eminence that came to characterise the works of the mid-to-late 1960s. Moving into the next phase of his career, fervent bodily evocations and base matter give way to the predominance of the pencil and graphic line, and thus we see a transition from Dionysian physicality into an Apollonian intellectualism. As Twombly stated in 2008 to Nicholas Serota, paint is something that I use with my hands and so all those tactile things. I really dont like oil because you cant get back into it, or you make a mess. I mean its not my favourite thing, pencil is more my medium than wet paint (Cy Twombly in conversation with Nicholas Serota, History Behind the Thought, in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008-09, p. 48). In the present work the physicality of exuberant pigment its thrown, smeared, finger-printed impasto application is perfectly balanced against the lyrical pre-eminence of written passages, graphic lines, and Mallarméan silence.\nThe presence of Sappho is here significant. Imbued with unbridled eroticism and yet surviving only in the form of translated fragments and salvaged scraps, her lyrical poetry offers an analogue for Twomblys interest in the space between language and its translation. Sapphic verse is therefore proto-Mallarméan in its pauses, caesuras, and ultimately in its silence. As illuminated by Professor Mary Jacobus in her recent book, Reading Cy Twombly: Poetics in Paint: reference is never abstract when it comes to the erotic associations of Sapphos poetry. Twombly elsewhere quotes the fragment, But their heart turned cold and they dropped their wings. These memorable lines and phrases are all the more tantalising for the hiatuses in the Sapphic text As with Twomblys fragmentary writing we can never really know what linked these fragments, or what lies in their interstices: we can only guess at the words, thoughts, and emotions whose absence is constitutive of Sapphic poetics (Mary Jacobus, Reading Cy Twombly: Poetics in Paint, New Jersey and Oxford 2016, p. 90). The erotic power and fragmentary nature of what survives of Sapphos work is brought to the fore in this painting, which itself refers back to Twomblys earlier use of Sapphic verse in the imposing yet spare suite of 24 works on paper, Poems to the Sea (1959)   works that also comprise the same bisecting horizon line present in Untitled.\nPerhaps the most telling part of Untitled, however, is the presence of the crossed out words: Artists Studio. Resting just below the horizon line and just above the painters palette, these words immediately conjure images of iconic artists studios for example, the deep strata of oil paint on Lucian Freuds studio walls, the paint smeared door and compost of fragmented source imagery that comprised Francis Bacons working environment at 7 Reece Mews, and the drip-marked floor of Jackson Pollocks Long-Island work space. These preserved environments in their own way portraits of their authors today inhabit the realm of the memento mori; the absence of their occupants serves to emphasise transience and the onset of time. In this way, Untitled is a consummate self-portrait of Cy Twombly: at once artists studio and reflective mirror it holds the key to unlock and decode the master of cryptic allusion on canvas.\nSigned and dated Roma 1962
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medium

Oil and graphite on canvas

creator

Twombly, Cy

condition

Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality of the canvas is warmer in the original. Condition: Please refer to the department for a professional condition report. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

130.5 by 150.5 cm. 51 3/8 by 59 1/4 in.

exhibition

Rome, Galleria La Tartaruga, 13 Pittori a Roma, February 1963, n.p., illustrated

literature

Galleria La Tartaruga, Catalogo 1, 1964, n.p., illustrated Heiner Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume II, 1961 - 1965, Munich 1993, p. 153, no. 82, illustrated in colour

provenance

Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone, Rome Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1970s

signedDate

Signed and dated Roma 1962

artist_range_end

2011

artist_range_start

1928

consignmentDesignation

Property from an Important Private European Collection

creator_nationality_dates

1928 - 2011


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

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