Lot 35
  • 35

Cy Twombly

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
2,952,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Cy Twombly
  • Untitled (Bolsena)
  • signed, dated 69 and Aug 69 and inscribed B. A and P. del D.
  • graphite, wax crayon and felt-tip pen on paper


Galleria Notizie, Turin
Galerie Jacques Benador, Geneva
Private Collection, Geneva
Emmanuel Benador Fine Arts, New York
Van de Weghe Fine Arts, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in November 2009


Winterthur, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Plane / Figure: Amerikanische Kunst aus Schweizer Privatsammlungen und aus dem Kunstmuseum Winterthur, August - December 2006, p. 60, no. 209, illustrated in color


Nicola del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings, Catalogue Raisonné Volume 4: 1964-1969, Munich, 2014, p. 218, no. 261, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

In the summer of 1969, Cy Twombly worked in isolation on the shores of Lago di Bolsena, about eighty miles north of Rome, to create a cycle of grand, epic paintings and works on paper that have long been recognized as a critical series from his renowned oeuvre. As definitively attested by Untitled (Bolsena), that storied summer generated works that are unlike anything else of Twombly’s groundbreaking 1960s output. Immensely rare, of the only twenty-two works on paper belonging to this series, the catalogue raisonné confirms that a majority fourteen of the Bolsena drawings to this day remain in the collection of the Cy Twombly Foundation. Executed during a “long and often lonely siege of work” – clearly catalyzed by a fevered and inexorable will to innovate in the summer heat of central Italy - this dynamic work marks a significant departure from the predominant trends of repetitive elegiac inscription and tonal solemnity of the so-called ‘Blackboard’ paintings that occupied much of his attention during the latter part of the decade (Kirk Varnedoe, "Inscriptions in Arcadia," in Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 43). As with the very best works by Twombly, Untitled (Bolsena) signals an urgent and fractured transmutation of diverse stimuli through its lyrical fits of stuttering marks, numbers, fluttering forms and explosive scribbles. Outstanding for its proliferation of vigorously scrawled instances of vivid color, the present work is remarkably complex in its assortment of diverse markings; it reverberates with a primal urgency characteristic of Twombly's unique pictorial expression. This work is also entirely archetypal of the specific characteristics that define the Bolsena series, as precisely outline by Nicholas Cullinan: “Flow, segmentation, sequence and lateral speed assume center stage… Tumbling forms, calculations and scribbled-out numbers like incorrect sums proliferate...[The] topic of ascent and descent is particularly applicable to the Bolsena paintings.” (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 112)

Much of the radical shift in Twombly’s oeuvre embodied by the Bolsena works can perhaps be accounted for by his ceaseless travel during this time: an apparently insatiable wanderlust, which concords with the markedly different aesthetic characteristics and pictorial traits of the various series he produced during this entire period. At the end of 1967, the thirty-nine year-old Twombly travelled by boat from New York to Naples, but by May and June 1968 he was back in New York, working in a studio on the Bowery where he created the Orion and Synopsis of a Battle pictures, and the first large-scale version of Treatise on the Veil and Veil of Orpheus. He spent August 1968 in Castel Gardena before returning to New York City for the autumn. In December he was in Captiva Island, Florida, where he worked on a series of collages, as well as in Los Angeles, where he had his first exhibition at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery. From there he travelled to California and then on to Mexico, subsequently spending the month of January 1969 on the Caribbean Isle of Saint Martin. Thus his arrival in Bolsena in May 1969 marked the end of a period of enduring transition; he would remain in the ancient Italian town in comparative solitude for six months until October.

A small town infused with the rich shadows of an endless history, Bolsena provided Twombly an environment of certainty and longevity, which so often sparked his ability to create breathtakingly unprecedented art. Thus as with other works executed in Italy, Untitled (Bolsena) is a reflection of a place that Twombly perceived as being lost to history. Forged in an inherently classical environment, this work is inevitably a manifestation of a personal response to the ancient landscape, though through Twombly’s vision this becomes a metaphysical landscape that is limited only by the imagination. As Cullinan has noted, Bolsena would have been known to Twombly through Raphael’s fresco The Mass at Bolsena (c. 1512-13) in the Stanza di Eliodoro of the Vatican Palace (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and travelling), Op. Cit., p. 112) Through the summer of 1969 Twombly worked in the Palazzo del Drago in Bolsena, which had been built as an imposing palace in 1543 for Tiberio Crispo, a nephew of Pope Paul III. In these magnificent surroundings Twombly created some of the most innovative works of art of the post-war period.

Untitled (Bolsena) encapsulates Twombly’s signature technique and tremendously influential aesthetic wherein the traces of creation and erasure are left bare on the face of the composition: the narrative of addition and subtraction builds up like archaeological strata to create an artwork of endless intrigue. 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 manifest as sensually tangible experience. Expressed through the violent metamorphosis of mutating, ever fateful identities and thoughts, the poetry and mythology of Classical antiquity - its sense of tragedy and transformation – emerge invigorated and renewed. With an incomparable surface and cascading sense of destabilized forms, the composition of Untitled (Bolsena) pulsates with a frenzied sensuality that reaches beyond allegory to the absolute itself. The agitation of Twombly's hand and gesture stands in opposition to the solidity of objects here: the strict geometry of cascading rectangular forms are challenged by the amorphous fluidity and vitality of frenetic graphite marks, which enact a flurry of spontaneous dynamism across the paper surface. It is in this space between formal suggestion and graphic abandon that Twombly's works find their powerful resonance. Through the opposition of these binary qualities, Twombly gives new possibilities to the expressiveness of mark-making.