Lot 21
  • 21

Cy Twombly

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Cy Twombly
  • Venere Franchetti
  • signed, titled and dated 1963

  • oil paint, lead pencil on canvas
  • 55 1/8 x 78 3/4 in. 140 x 200 cm.


Collection Giorgio Franchetti, Rome
Heiner Friedrich Gallery, Munich
Private Collection, Munich
Sotheby's, London, December 6, 1984, Lot 573
Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne/Paris
Private Collection, Berlin
Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume II: 1961 - 1965, Munich, 1993, cat. no. 158, p. 237, illustrated in color


This work is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at 212-606-7254 for a condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is framed in a light brown wood frame with a float.
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.

Catalogue Note

Cy Twombly's Venere Franchetti, 1963 is a gorgeous reflection of the influence of Italy and its wealth of cultural traditions in the American artist's work. When Twombly began to work in Rome in 1957, he was struck not just by the geography of the Mediterranean, but by the sensitive atmosphere embodied by the Italian savoir du vivre and the centuries of abundant cultural, historical and mythic associations provided by its ancient legacy. Cy Twombly's oeuvre is replete with a personal iconography of allusions that touch upon poetry, art, literature, sexuality and classicism but his works ultimately remain enigmatic and inscrutable to the viewer. The independent and bold nature of the artist's use of line, text, paint and pictorial space complemented the mystery of their intent. Heiner Bastian writes in the artist's catalogue raisonné, "Mediterranean Italy represented, for Twombly, image and meditation, the projection and reflection of the mirror's hidden face, revealed to the artist as if to a seer; it became clear that Twombly's radical formulation paved the way for the transformation and stylistic break so distinct in the paintings of the late 1950's." (Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume II: 1961 - 1965, Munich, 1993, p, 22). In Venere Franchetti, the frenetic graffiti of Twombly's earlier compositions gives way to a luminous palette, luscious paint and elegant line. The painting glows with an aura of femininity that is married to the subject of Venus, a theme in which Twombly "explore[s] symbolic images of physicality, passion, seduction and carnal yearning." (Ibid, 29).

Throughout his career, Twombly's work is intertwined with history and myth, and in Venere Franchetti, the artist expertly handles a sublime mélange of both topics. The direct inspiration for Twombly's painting and its title is Titian's Venus with a Mirror in the collection of his patron, Baron Giorgio Franchetti, whose sister Twombly married in April of 1959. How better to explore the legacy of Ancient Roman myth than through the lens of a master painter of the High Renaissance? Thus in Venere Franchetti, Twombly touches on cultural high points of Italian civilization, beginning with Ancient Rome and culminating in the Renaissance. Titian's masterpiece has been an inspiration for painters in his circle and beyond; by taking up this classical theme, Twombly aligns himself with the historical trajectory of those painters whose brushes were invigorated by Titian's gazing beauty. Rooted in antiquity, the subject of the painting is Venus, goddess of love and desire, born of a frothy sea as the embodiment of female sexuality. This archetype courses through art history and Twombly was not alone among contemporary artists who quoted from an historical masterpiece that portrayed Venus as a universal object of desire, gazing into a mirror as a pictorial device of iconic and optical richness. In the century after Titian, Peter Paul Rubens painted Venus at the Mirror which joined the rich pictorial lexicon in the Color Silkscreen paintings of Twombly's friend Robert Rauschenberg in the same year of Venere Franchetti. While Ruben's Venus gazes out at the viewer, for Twombly, soft, rounded shapes with a painterly application represent the female. In Venere Franchetti, the ovular shapes rendered in fleshy tones reference the breasts of the Venus; but despite the invitingly tactile application of the paint, the composition remains decidedly abstract. Here Titian's Venus is used as the jumping off point for Twombly's exploration of his chosen themes. Twombly has said of his work, "I'm not an abstractionist completely. There has to be a history behind the thought." (Tate Catalogue, referenced online). Twombly uses this history as fuel for his painterly journey that tends to explore the emotion and memory associated with the past.

Venere Franchetti was painted in the period of Twombly's masterful Discourse on Commodus series, which included nine paintings that convey the personality of the often violent and unpredictable Roman Emperor, Aurelius Commodus. The Commodus paintings are vertical, a format that Twombly used to demark portraiture, and they are also characterized by violent slashes and drips of bloody shades of red. In contrast, Venere Franchetti is a reprieve from the brutality and agitation found in Commodus. Twombly also used a horizontal format for the Venus, which he more commonly associated with landscape. Continuing in this vein, it is possible to conflate Twombly's love of landscape with the subject of Venus. It is tempting to interpret the elegant horizontal line as a demarcation of a horizon, prompting the illusion of space receding into the distance. Twombly has said, "Landscape is one of my favorite things in the world. Any kind of landscape stimulates me." (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008)  In Venere Franchetti, there is an undulating transmutation in the mind's eye of the sumptuous curves of a woman's breasts and the chimera of two hills beyond a bay enveloped in mist. There is a play between the fertility of the land and the fertility of a woman. All the while, the flicker of each beautiful vision recedes into memory before it can be fully apprehended.

This is the magic of Twombly's paintings. His work points toward the sublime that can only be reached by grasping at the dimension beyond the command of consciousness. Twombly often speaks of "irresponsibility to gravity" as being central to his work, describing his interpretation of Classical mythology as a realm of shadowless imagination without weight or constraint. As Twombly enters into a physical dialogue with the corporeal and unseen, myth is often manifested as sensually tangible experience as in Venere Franchetti. Expressed through the violent metamorphosis of mutation, the poetry and mythology of Classical antiquity - its sense of tragedy and transformation – emerges invigorated and renewed.