Tom Wilbur, New Jersey (acquired from the artist)
Acquired by descent to the present owner from the above in 1996
Exh. Cat., New York, Sperone Westwater, Cy Twombly, Paintings and Sculptures 1951 and 1953, 1989, pl. no. 2, illustrated
Heiner Bastian, Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume I, 1948 - 1960, Munich, 1992, cat. no. 28, p. 64, illustrated
Myo is an extremely rare early canvas by Cy Twombly that serves as an illuminating example of the artist's painterly enterprise just as it is a window on an unprecedented period in American art history. The decade of the 1950s solidified the triumph of American Painting, represented early in the decade with Willem de Kooning's Woman I (1950-1952, Collection of the Museum of Modern Art) and in the August 1949 Life magazine article asking if Jackson Pollock was the greatest living painter in the United States. Both artists stood as twin pillars in the art world, having indelibly stamped their different styles and interpretations onto the emerging New York school of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s. The predominance of such giants was pervasive and inescapable as younger artists, born from 1925-1930, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly were entering their 20s and embarking on the path toward their own artistic identity. The challenge for Twombly and his fellow artists was to absorb the influences and lessons of such strong work while forging toward an independent style. In many cases – Johns and Twombly among them – few works of these early years survive and they are prized for the insights they provide into the talent and development of artists who would in their turn be elevated to premiere places in American art.
In Twombly's catalogue raisonné, only two works are listed as painted in 1949, followed by twenty-eight paintings dated to 1951. Seven paintings no longer exist and nine, including Myo, are listed as ``whereabouts unknown'' and exist in the record as black and white photographs taken by the artist. Many, such as Myo, were painted in the artist's hometown of Lexington, Virginia, and in fact, the previous owner of Myo, Tom Wilbur, was a cadet at Lexington's Virginia Military Institute when he met Twombly. The remaining 1951 paintings were done at Black Mountain College in North Carolina so this body of work represents a key transitional moment in the artist's early career. Twombly had studied art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1947/48 and at Washington and Lee University in Lexington in 1949. In 1950, his experience of avant-garde art was greatly expanded when he moved to New York City to study at the Arts Student League. Among the many artists whom he met and whose work became familiar to him, none was more influential than Robert Rauschenberg. In the summer of 1951 and winter of 1952, Twombly joined Rauschenberg at Black Mountain College, a proudly non-traditional school with renowned artists as faculty that championed an interdisciplinary liberal and fine arts education both inside and outside the classroom.
In 1951, Rauschenberg and Twombly both reduced their palettes to the basic building blocks of black and white as a reductive means to strip painting down to its essence. In recognition of the talents of Franz Kline whom they both admired, the properties of paint and the act of painting became the subject of their art. In November 1951, the photographer Aaron Siskind and Noah Goldowsky presented Twombly's first one-man show at the Seven Stairs Gallery in Chicago which was also originally to include Rauschenberg's black and white paintings known as the Night Blooming series. His works were not shown and most are believed lost. Robert Motherwell, artist-in-residence at Black Mountain College at the time, wrote the notes for this 1951 exhibition, declaring Twombly a ``natural'' and ``the most accomplished young painter whose work I happen to have encountered''. Motherwell praised Twombly's knowledge of previous masters including ``the massive decadent surface (in being only surface) of Dubuffet'' and the paint-laden surface of Myo amply demonstrates Twombly's affinity for the artist. (Exh. Cat., New York, Sperone Westwater, Cy Twombly: Paintings and Sculptures 1951-1953, 1989, n.p.)
Motherwell also noted Twombly's recognition of the ``deliberate abandon and sensuality of the present-day New York school of Abtract Expressionists'' and it is in the elemental essence of the New York School that Twombly is most in tune with his predecessors. Throughout art history paint was a medium to portray action but remain recessive as it did so, but modernism inverted this equation, and action became the means by which paint became visible and its presence on the canvas tantamount. A new vocabulary of painterly incident emerged as verbs such as drip, smear, and spatter became nouns.
Motherwell recognized Twombly's singular gift was ``his native temperamental affinity with the abandon, the brutality, the irrational in avant-garde painting of the moment. His painting process ... is orgastic. ...Yet the art in his painting is rational, often surprisingly simply symmetrical, and invariably harmonious.'' (Ibid. n.p.) Myo and its companion paintings of 1951 are early treasures that announce the arrival of a formidable practitioner of the oil medium as surface and gesture. The dense texture and ideographic composition of Myo foretell the wealth of invention to follow in Twombly's oeuvre.
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