Lot 4
  • 4

Cy Twombly

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 USD
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  • Cy Twombly
  • Untitled
  • signed and dated 1970 on the reverse of each sheet
  • oil and wax crayon on two sheets of paper
  • overall: 55 x 34 in. 139.7 x 86.4 cm.


Private Collection, Delaware
Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in May 1989)
Thomas Segal Gallery, Boston (acquired from the above in June 1989)
Galerie de France, Paris
Acquired by the present owner from the above in October 1997


This work is in excellent condition. There is an extremely faint diagonal crease across the bottom right corner of the upper sheet and a small horizontal crease along the bottom right edge of the bottom sheet. Finger prints and light handling marks, dating from the artist's studio and inherent to the working process, are evident primarily along the bottom left edge and top of the right edge of the bottom sheet. This work is framed in a wood strip frame painted white, and mounted under Plexiglas in a larger shadow box frame painted white with a three inch 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

“In the myth of an ephemeral here and now the imagination of space becomes a distant sense racing irreconcilably toward the utopia of timelessness. And in Cy Twombly’s painting this distant sense disperses – more than any other identity – in the paradigm of space and time of perpetual change.”

Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume IV, 1972-1995, Munich, 1995, p. 25


The spontaneous and lyrical calligraphic lines of Cy Twombly’s vibrant Untitled from 1970 seem indeed to overcome the paradigm of space and time incisively referenced by Heiner Bastian, the foremost scholar of Twombly's work and editor of the catalogue raisonné. In their conceived frenzy and immediacy, the rhythmic cadences of incised wax crayon express the artist's gestural genius, often flowing over the edges of the paper as if completely autonomous and liberated from any human intervention. The present work, created in an outburst of creative output, sits within the seminal period of Twombly’s celebrated Blackboard works. The sparse iconography of these works, which were first conceived in Rome in 1966, would emanate as the focal point of his oeuvre in the following years leading to some of the artist’s most ambitious and creative endeavors. Twombly's primacy of the line and the gradual dissolution of the written word into a vibrant amalgam of forms yielded a self-referential graphic system of movement that is set against a pure and seemingly minimalist grey background. Gesture and any manifestation of letters or numbers has transcended 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. The painter leaves behind any didactic meaning of his intervention, abandoning the safe haven of mythological symbols and reverting to the most primal usage of the line as an almost naïve yet extremely potent transmitter of space, duration, and motion. Twombly himself described the appearance of the line as “childish but not child-like. […][T]o get that quality you need to project yourself into the child's line. It has to be felt. ” (Cy Twombly cited in Hayden Herrera, “Cy Twombly, A Homecoming,” Harper’s Bazaar, no. 3393, August, 1994, p. 147)

The Blackboard works marked Twombly's abrupt abandonment of the richly colorful and expressive compositions from the first half of the 1960s known as Baroque Paintings, giving rise to works that would employ a visual language of pure austerity and 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. The conceptual rigor of works from the period between 1968 and 1970, in which more geometric and mathematical elements informed Twombly’s works as a result of the prevailing interest in space travel and the first moon landing in 1969, has been abandoned almost entirely in the present work. Instead, Untitled is a consummate display of Twombly’s celebration of a more intuitive and gestural approach in which the visceral movement of the artist’s hand is palpable in every line.

The depth and power of the surface of Untitled is brilliantly achieved through successive applications of nuanced tones of grey oil paint. The energetic lines and swirls, overlapping and casting shadows upon each other, were applied with a chalky white wax crayon as if obsessively and instinctively writing on a wall or, in fact, a classroom blackboard. The all-over quality of these works is reminiscent of the expressive painterly ‘action painting’ of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, sharing the relentless absorption of the pictorial space by exceeding its boundaries. At the same time, Twombly's sparse use of color and strict contrast between grey background and stark white lines reveal a minimalist tendency. While Twombly’s famed Blackboard works marked a profoundly critical visual departure from his earlier works of the same decade, their shared source of inspiration remains in the transformation of writing into the realm of painting, creating abstract, multitudinal references that can be traced throughout his poetic oeuvre. “The element of emotion (itself unable to redeem intelligible meaning since it is in constant struggle for another kind of freedom) is deeply rooted in Twombly’s development. Hence, the dialogue of the verbal and the non-verbal in the work of these years is mirrored colloquy, a permanent glass bead game endlessly refracted to incomprehensibility. In painting after painting, the hand confesses a transformative outrage, an unremitting free association that dissolves the pathos of painting within a flow of language that is ultimately closer to the message of poetry than any other text.” (Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1966-1971, Vol. III, Munich, 1994, p. 28)