Lot 4
  • 4

Cy Twombly

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Cy Twombly
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 1970 on the reverse
  • oil and wax crayon on paper
  • 27 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. 70 x 100 cm.


Galleria Sperone, Turin
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1974


This work is in excellent condition. The surface exhibits a small amount of very light burnishing as a result of previous framing. There is a miniscule 3/8" line of minor inpainting located at center right that is visible upon very close inspection and under ultraviolet light. The sheet is hinged at intervals to ragboard and framed in a wood frame painted white with a 3 inch float under Plexiglas.
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

Executed at the chronological apex of Cy Twombly’s inimitable cycle of Blackboard works, Untitled of 1970 is a spectacularly realized instance of the irresistible energy and urgent expressiveness that marks the very kernel of Twombly’s artistic mastery and stands as the enduring leitmotif of his groundbreaking contribution to the course of twentieth century art history. Just four short years after Twombly’s wax crayon completed its final haptic scrawl across the surface of Untitled, it was acquired by its present owner; it has remained a part of the same distinguished private collection for over forty years and its appearance at auction today effectively marks its public debut. The apparently spontaneous slanted marks that surge across the slate gray ground of Untitled churn with a wondrous dynamism and present themselves to us as if broadcasting the very essence of Twombly’s aesthetic drive. The rhythmic cadence of these tempestuous loops resolves into four loosely delineated bands comprised of layered strata: as the vibrant white of Twombly’s crayon seems to float on the surface of the sheet, its darker gray counterpart lies deep within the oil ground, conferring upon the composition a sensation of depth and dimensionality. At times approaching the boundaries of lexical cognition, Untitled ultimately and unequivocally denies legibility, subverting any prescribed attributions of sign referents to the physical properties of pure form. Gesture and any representation of letters or numbers that may arise from Twombly’s earnestly automatic contours transcend into an abstract-visual language in which the deciphering of any script has been replaced by the pure visual sensation of illegible writing meandering into rhythmic expression. The ever-present dichotomy within Twombly’s oeuvre of the figurative and the abstract, the written and the painted, and the dogmatic and the intuitive, is masterfully conjoined in the present work.

It was in Rome – an environment of particular significance to Twombly, and a landscape that provided him with perpetual inspiration – that the artist first conceived of the sparse iconography of the celebrated Blackboard works. Begun in 1966, this series concurrently marked a moment of critical rupture from his earlier oeuvre, and established itself as the aesthetic focal point from which his future artistic endeavors – indeed, some of the most ambitious and creative of his entire career – would emanate. Works such as Untitled signify an abrupt abandonment of the richly colorful and expressive compositions of the first half of the 1960s known as the Baroque Paintings, and give rise to a larger body of works that are described by their pure austerity and visual sublimity.  Executed in 1970, Untitled recalls the pictorial language of Twombly’s first experiments with the effusive and turbulent scribbles in 1966, in which the lasso-loops and circular lines playfully overwhelm the surface to create a lyrical yet dramatic impression on the viewer. Every inch of this superb work is a consummate display of Twombly’s celebration of a more intuitive and gestural approach to art-making, in which the visceral movement of the artist’s hand is palpable in every line.

Though deeply and indelibly archetypal of its creator’s unique aesthetic vision, Untitled dually recalls a plethora of visual referents: fascinated by capturing both movement and time, Twombly’s practice easily aligns with that of Marcel Duchamp, while the liberal energy of Jackson Pollock’s action painting and the typological drills of the ubiquitous Palmer Handwriting Method are also strongly represented and referenced by the present composition. As viewers we are seduced, by what is perceived as a stark reduction of the painted surface to its most elemental form, into the hidden complexity and depth of the image.  Despite our residual yearning to decipher the written marks that describe Untitled, Twombly's visual language has neither syntax nor logic. With the unsophisticated rawness of illegible graffiti Twombly invents a transcendent new visual language to interrogate both the most elementary and the most sophisticated concerns posed by the genesis of creativity. Teeming with pure artistic brilliance, Untitled stands as tangible testimony to Cy Twombly’s staggering innovation and peerless abstract aesthetic.