Cy Twombly (1928-2011)

American painter, sculptor, and photographer, Edwin Parker ‘Cy’ Twombly Jr. is known for his large-scale, gestural, and abstract works. Often hailed as one of the most important artists of the post-war era, Twombly forged a distinct artistic idiom, infusing his painterly language with sources from antiquity, art history, classicism, and literature.


Born in Lexington, Virginia in 1928, Twombly – nicknamed Cy after the great baseball player Cy Young – began practicing art at a young age, taking private lessons from the age of 12. Studying in a range of schools, including the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Washington and Lee University, Twombly attended The Art Students League in New York from 1950 to 1951. It was here that he met fellow artist Robert Rauschenberg, who suggested that Twombly attend Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Here his peers included Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and John Cage. After his first exhibition at Samuel M. Kootz in 1951, which showed gestural, linear works inspired by Kline, Twombly received a grant which allowed him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France. On his return to the United States in 1954, he served in the army as a cryptographer, before teaching in Virginia, and painting in his spare time. Three years later, he returned to Italy, settling in Rome where he would remain for the rest of his life. The Mediterranean landscape, history, and culture would remain central to Twombly’s painting throughout his career.

Often quoting poets including Stéphane Mallarmé, Rainer Maria Rilke, and John Keats, as well as many classical myths and allegories in his work, Twombly’s unique form of abstraction was also steeped in eroticism and layered with corporeal symbols. At the heart of Twombly’s art lies a fundamental interest in language, writing, and mark marking. This is exemplified by the Blackboard paintings, created between 1967 and 1971, which take the power of the gesture further, consisting of large, vigorous, colorless scrawls across a gray ground.


In 1968, the Milwaukee Art Museum mounted the first retrospective of Twombly’s art, followed by another at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1979. The artist was later honored by retrospectives in Zurich, Paris, New York, and London. In 2001, the Menil Collection, Houston, the Kunstmuseum Basel, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. presented the first exhibition devoted entirely to Twombly’s sculpture.


Many of Twombly’s works are in the permanent collections of museums around the world, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Menil Collection, Houston; the Broad, Los Angeles; Tate Modern, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2010, Twombly was commissioned for the ceiling of a room of the Musée du Louvre in Paris.


Cy Twombly died in Rome in 2011.