Lot 7
  • 7

Cy Twombly

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
701,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Cy Twombly
  • Untitled (Rome)
  • signed and dated 1961  
  • oil, wax crayon and pencil on canvas
  • 65.2 by 49.8 cm. 25 5/8 by 19 5/8 in.


Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome

Galerie Änne Abels, Cologne

Private Collection, Cologne

Max Huggler, Switzerland (acquired from the above in 1976)

Estate of Max Huggler, Switzerland (thence by descent)

Sotheby's, New York, 16 May 2007, Lot 165 (consigned by the above)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Cologne, Galerie Änne Abels, Cy Twombly, April - May 1963, n.p., illustrated 


Heiner Bastian, Ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume 2: 1961-1965, Munich 1992, p. 91, no. 33, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Untitled (Rome) utterly chrystalises Cy Twombly’s project of the early 1960s. Emulating the great tradition of artists drawn to Rome as a site of cultural pilgrimage, this work reframes modern art’s implacable abstract trajectory in the Eternal City’s mythological past. In the midst of Twombly’s haphazard hand-writing, fractious scrawls metamorphose into a knotted tree trunk above which a bower of fruit-laden branches overhang an inscription, plaque-like and funereal, as if carved into stone. This reads ‘Cy Twombly Rome 1961’. Its dominion over the lower half of the the present work imparts a visual and conceptual nod to the famous dictum of Nicholas Poussin’s eponymous painting: Et in Arcadia Ego (1637-38, Musée du Louvre, Paris). Poussin’s archetypal memento mori – art history’s paragon of death in paradise – is here revivified for the Twentieth Century: reminding us of Poussin’s tomb in Arcadia, Twombly’s headstone stakes modern art’s claim to Rome’s bygone yet enduring mythological campagna. As Benjamin Buchloh has further elaborated, via his conjuring of Rome’s ancient past Twombly mourns “both the loss of a disappearing classical world of mythical experience and, ultimately, the loss of painting itself” (Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, ‘Ego in Arcadia: Benjamin H. D. Buchloh on Cy Twombly', Artforum, 1 January 2006, p. 26).

There is a definite element of melancholy to Twombly’s recapitulated classicism in the stuttering and fragmented expression of his hand. In works that articulate the schism between modernism and the classical past, Twombly mourns the passing of an irretrievable era. As the artist once admitted in interview: “I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time” (Cy Twombly quoted in: Nicholas Cullinan, ‘Notes on Painting’, in: Exh. Cat., London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters, 2011, p. 18). Icon-like therefore, the present work acts as a wonderful précis for perhaps the most important phase in Twombly’s career.

Belonging to the generation of American painters living in the shadow of Jackson Pollock and the impact of Abstract Expressionism, Twombly found a stimulating antidote in the academic classicism of Ancient Rome. After attending the esteemed Black Mountain College during 1951-52, the artist travelled Europe and North Africa with his fellow classmate Robert Rauschenberg. The importance of this trip for Twombly’s career would prove instrumental, and in 1957 the draw of Europe finally prevailed when he returned to Rome and took up full-time residence there in a rented apartment overlooking the Colosseum. From that point onwards Twombly’s work took on a marked classical bent. The artist’s full immersion into the atmosphere of Rome’s ancient monuments and his increasing dedication to classical mythology through its epic poetry and historic literature, seeped into the very core of his work at the time. Although seemingly anachronistic in comparison to non-referential mysticism of Abstract Expressionism, ancient Rome was the means by which Twombly was able to explore anew the limits of painting whilst simultaneously mourning its decline.

Herein, and as previously mentioned with regards to the present work, the parity between Cy Twombly and the classicising seventeenth-century painter Nicholas Poussin is apt. As curator Nicholas Cullinan has observed: “Twombly and Poussin both devoted their lives to the same preoccupations: a love of nature, poetry, myth and history, and a real commitment both to mastering a vast body of literature that might inform their work and then an unceasing effort to perfect the technical, manual act of painting itself” (Nicholas Cullinan, ibid., p. 19). Where Poussin took on the classical past as a means of critiquing the social order of his day, Twombly took on the pastoral mystique and Arcadian allure of ancient Rome as a means of poetically breaking down and recapitulating the fabric of contemporary painting. In a rare moment of artifice, fecund branches heavily laden with generous bursts of oil paint overhang Twombly’s contemporary claim to the ancient land of Arcadia.