Lot 13
  • 13

Cy Twombly

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Cy Twombly
  • See Naples + Die
  • titled and dated MCMXXXXXX        
  • crayon, pen and and pencil on paper
  • 49.9 by 70.2cm.; 19 5/8 by 27 5/8 in.


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York

Private Collection, Florida

Duncan MacGuigan, New York

Acquavella Fine Arts LLC, New York

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1994


London, Tate Gallery; Tübingen, Kunsthalle Tübingen; Stuttgart, Staatgalerie Stuttgart, Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart; Hamburg, Deichtorhallen Hamburg; and Vienna, Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien, Stiftung Froehlich: Sammlungsblöcke, 1996-97, p. 185, no. 250, illustrated in colour  

Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst im ZKM Karlsruhe, Eröffnung des Museums für Neue Kunst, 1999-2000

Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst im ZKM Karlsruhe, on loan to the collection, 2001-04

Karlsruhe, Museum für Neue Kunst im ZKM Karlsruhe, Just what is it …, 2009-10, p. 169, illustrated 


Susanne Meyer-Büser, Ed., Museum für Neue Kunst ZKM Karlsruhe, Munich 2002, pp. 84-85, illustrated in colour

Nicola del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 2, 1956-1960, New York 2012, p. 227, no. 188, illustrated in colour 

Catalogue Note

A fervent deluge of visceral scrawls, florid marks, explicitly phallic references and violent burst of colour, See Naples + Die is part of a series of 6 drawings, which signpost Twombly’s full immersion into the grand resplendence of his beloved Italy. Painted in Sant’ Angelo on the idyllic island of Ischia, they mark a key turning point in the artist’s prodigious practice. Executed in 1960, the year that Twombly and his family moved to the Via Monserrato in Rome, they reflect the artist’s total engrossment in his Italian environ. Enamoured by the classical grandeur, majestic panoramas and historic potency of Italy, Twombly developed an idiosyncratic style of lyrical ‘handwriting’ that was saturated with the splendour and decadence of the Mediterranean world. At a time when his contemporaries were turning to popular culture for inspiration, Twombly immersed himself in the literary heritage and erotic imagery of the classical past. In a torrent of new, unrestrained creativity the artist painted some of the most important works of his career, including Crimes of Passion II, housed in the collection of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Odeion included in the collection of Udo and Annette Brandhorst and Sunset Series Part II, which is on permanent loan to the Städtisches Museum Abteitag, Mönchengladbach. Fluctuating between figuration and abstraction See Naples + Die is an impassioned visualisation of the historic and aesthetic grandeur of Twombly’s newly adopted home.

Having spent extensive periods of time in the Mediterranean in the late 1950s, Twombly was unaware that his Italian sojourn would develop into a permanent living situation and become his ongoing source of inspiration and provocation for the next four decades. In 1960 the artist spent the summer on the island of Ischia. Immersed in the Arcadian landscape of an idyllic coastal village Twombly created the series of drawings See Naples + Die. With a visceral energy and cacophony of signs and colour these drawings capture the terrestrial conditions of his natural surroundings and stood as an exuberant paean to the radiance of the Mediterranean. Enraptured by the incandescence of these staggering vistas Twombly developed a unique idiosyncratic gestural vocabulary that would radicalise his ensuing artistic output. As pointed out by Roland Barthes: “The inimitable art of Twombly consists of having imposed the Mediterranean effect while starting from materials (scratches, smudges, smears, little color, no academic forms) which have no analogy with the great Mediterranean radiance. [He evokes a] whole life of forms, colours, and light which occurs at the frontier of the terrestrial landscape and the plains of the sea” (Roland Barthes quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Cy Twombly: Paintings and Drawings 1954-1977, 1979, p. 16).

Contrasting the regular rhythm of Twombly’s earlier 1950s output, the present work displays an intuitive matrix of illusive signs and ambiguous symbols. The work’s title, encased in a box-like frame at the top of the composition, alludes to Twombly’s lifelong idealisation of Italy’s classical Arcadian campagna. It exalts the romanticised setting of ancient mythologies and romantic traditions, such as the classical theme of Eros, which would dominate his subsequent Baroque Paintings (created between 1960 and 1965). A ravishing pantheon of priapic scribbles, scrawled breasts, and numerical encryptions that oscillate towards the top right corner of the composition – a stylistic idiosyncrasy that is visible in many of Twombly’s works – these mystic cyphers pulsate with a frenzied sensuality. Following his move to the Mediterranean, Twombly had begun to experiment with the symbolic significance of colour. In the present work, the vivid cacophony of erotic crimson and carmine hues, stimulated by Twombly’s fervent pencil marks, evoke a passionate visual frenzy inspired by his surroundings. The spontaneous vitality of Twombly’s hand and wrist alchemically transformed experience and mythical imagination into an erotic splendour that marries the allegorical with the transgressive.  

See Naples + Die brings together in perfect harmony all the visceral drama, vibrant colour, sublime confluence of line and form, and sheer emotional urgency that characterise this seminal turning point in Twombly’s unparalleled practice.