Lot 52
  • 52

Cy Twombly

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
386,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Cy Twombly
  • Idilli
  • signed with the artist's initials and dated 76
  • oil, watercolour and crayon on three sheets of Fabriano paper
  • 42  3/8  x 29  5/8  inches


Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris

Private Collection, United Kingdom

The Pace Gallery, New York

Waddington Galleries Ltd., London

C&M Arts, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Cagnes-sur-Mer, Château Musée, 8e Festival International de la Peinture, 1976

London, Waddington Galleries, Works on Paper and Sculpture, 1993, p. 93, no. 46, illustrated


Yvon Lambert, Catalogue Raisonné des Oeuvres sur Papier de Cy Twombly, Volume VI 1973-1976, Milan 1979, p. 161, no. 173, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Over the course of half a century, Cy Twombly forged an utterly innovative painterly language, aiming to create a new mode of expression which looked to the ancient past for inspiration whilst providing an utterly modern interpretation of classical myth and legend: an interpretation that arose out of a time when pure mimesis within painting had lost its value. Twombly pioneered a highly abstracted painterly dialectic in which the relationship between signification and symbol was dissected and broken down, and in which the elemental materials of painting itself were deconstructed and re-formed. Annie Cohen-Solal has discussed the highly distinct nature of the artist’s oeuvre, stating that: “The work of Cy Twombly eludes art historian’s traditional categories” (Annie Cohen-Solal, ‘The Multiple Territories of Cy Twombly’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, London and New York, Eykyn Maclean, Cy Twombly, Works from the Sonnabend Collection, 2012, p. 5).

Made up of an exquisitely formed collage of paper and oil paint, Idilli combines elements of Twombly’s highly distinctive painterly language with the delicacy of a work on paper to superb effect. Ever the draughtsman, Twombly elevated drawing to the status of painting: the graphic gestures evolved from an expressive line to the presence of actual words – or numbers, in the case of the present work – embedded in the composition. Within Idilli, the tri-partite arrangement of the paper is almost architectural in form, imbuing the collage with an intriguing suggestion of three-dimensionality. Verdant green contrasts with the vivid blue of Twombly’s trademark loops of pigment, contained within an additional narrow band of paper. The result is a work which eloquently recalls the colours and sensations of nature, alluding to an Arcadian concept of a timeless landscape untouched by the incursion of modernity.

In 1957 Twombly relocated to Rome, where he became reinvigorated by the Mediterranean landscape, the ruins of Antiquity, and Renaissance masterpieces. Twombly’s oeuvre drew on these themes explicitly by incorporating imagery and titling his works after ancient mythology, injecting graphic lines and decontextualised words and numbers with the weight of art history. While touring Europe, Twombly was particularly affected and stimulated by the graffiti splashed across ancient landmarks: these expressive spray painted messages contributed to the aesthetic of his abstraction. Kirk Varnedoe argues that Twombly’s utilisation of collage was also influenced by the sight of ancient monuments as well as local graffiti: “His feel for the modern tradition of collage would have sensitized him to the many composite walls made from recycled stones with fragments of ancient figures and inscriptions… The implications of the marks he passed by in countless ruins and streets – implications of deep, recurrent patterns of human desire... – were more than enough to lure him” (Kirk Varnedoe in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly, A Retrospective, 1994-95, p. 29).

The inspiration of classical mythology and literature remained of paramount importance throughout Twombly’s career, and the artist gave titles such as The Age of Alexander, Triumph of Galatea and Leda and the Swan to examples of his work to impart new meaning to ancient paradigms. The title of Idilli adorning the present work reveals the influence of classical writings, referencing the Idylls of Theocritus, a group of poems from the Third Century BC which served as an extensive source of inspiration for Twombly during the summer of 1976. The thirty bucolic poems within the group share a broadly pastoral theme and follow the antics of various shepherds, goatherds and nymphs. Whilst the word ‘idilli’ appears to derive from the ancient Greek word for ‘little poems,’ the word is tantalisingly close to those of ‘idyllic’ or ‘idyll,’ evoking connotations of sunlit lands. Idilli is endowed with a further layer of meaning and symbolism through the presence of carefully delineated oak leaves, which hover across the uppermost sheet of paper. In ancient legend, the Sibyl – a figure of prophetic abilities – used to dispense the results of her oracular visions by writing on oak leaves: the numbers inscribed above each leaf perhaps allude to the order in which the prophecy should be interpreted. Twombly interweaves these layers of symbol and allusion within Idilli to create a work of fascinating emblematic complexity that encapsulates and distils the artist’s groundbreaking practice.