Lot 5
  • 5

Cy Twombly

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
2,835,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Cy Twombly
  • Untitled (Roman Note)
  • numbered 
  • oil paint, wax crayon and pencil on paper mounted on board
  • 27  1/2  x 34  1/2  inches


Marx Collection, Berlin
Peder Bonnier
The Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in December 1988


Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz; and Mönchengladbach, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Beuys, Rauschenberg, Twombly, Warhol: Sammlung Marx, March - September 1982, p. 149, no. 85, illustrated in color (titled Roman Note No. 4)
New York, The Pace Gallery, Cy Twombly: Works on Paper, January 1988, n.p., no. 9, illustrated in color (titled Roman Note No. 4)


Nicola Del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings: Cat. Rais. Vol. 5 1970-1971, Munich, 2015, p. 49, no. 54, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

In Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Roman Note), formal restraint gives way to tempestuous scrawls of blue crayon that swell, peak, and resolve with visceral urgency across the surface of the paper in wave upon wave of raw, kinetic energy. Executed in 1970, Untitled (Roman Note) emerges from a pivotal moment in Twombly’s mature practice; Twombly created his Roman Note series simultaneously with his landmark blackboard paintings, and it was during this period that the artist fully embraced the calligraphic scribbles which would become the signature gesture of his groundbreaking artistic aesthetic. A testament to the sublime beauty and historical import of the present work, Untitled (Roman Note) has remained in the same collection for almost three decades, prior to which it was treasured in two highly esteemed collections: the Marx Collection and the collection of Peder Bonnier. Resolutely reconciling the gap between literature and painting, between text and form, Untitled (Roman Note) approaches the boundaries of lexical cognition, but ultimately denies logic and legibility, instead pursuing a more immediate and direct means of communication.

Lyrical scribbles here unfold across the sheet in four loosely delineated horizontal bands of blue crayon. Unable to adhere to and penetrate the painted surface beneath, the waxy crayon hovers on the page, as if yearning to burst forth from the picture plane and dispense entirely with the boundary between art and life. Two layers of blue crayon, one line darker in color than the other, do not trace one another, but rather emerge from and recede into each other with the dynamic fluidity of a gesture that is neither forced nor forged. Twombly’s scribbles recall the Palmer method, a strict approach to teaching handwriting in which children were forced to repeatedly rewrite words and phrases, such that the simple gestures of pencil to paper became a form of internalized bodily discipline. Imitating yet clearly denouncing these punishing typological drills, Twombly’s hand moves gracefully across the page with a rhythmic cadence unhampered by traditional art school techniques and assumptions. Twombly revels in the experience of the eye disassociated from the hand which occurs when the artist is allowed to fully “de-skill” himself. Twombly resolutely leaves behind any didactic meaning of his own 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. As explained by Heiner Bastian: “Twombly tries to shatter form as well as its concomitant intellectual and narrative history in a kind of relativism, reducing it to a rationality of 'black and white' that is at the same time the structural sum of all movement." (Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume III 1966-1971, Munich, 1994, p. 23)

Untitled (Roman Note) bespeaks Twombly's renowned dialogue with the classical past. As the title suggests, Twombly was deeply inspired by Rome's historically saturated landscape. With his first visit to the Italian city in the early 1950s, Twombly was immediately taken by ancient forms of graffiti that he saw scrawled on the exteriors of historical Roman ruins, the influence of which is clearly discernible in the graffiti-like scrawls of Untitled (Roman Note). Twombly’s visits to Rome also cultivated his fascination with and knowledge of the erudite texts of Roman and Greek antiquity. Twombly was especially drawn to the meticulous notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, called Codices, within which da Vinci recorded his scientific observations of the natural world through nearly illegible writings and graphic drawings. Twombly saw within the Renaissance master's innumerable scientific formulas and scattered drawings and codes a private poetry of obsession, something driven by an irrational demon of secret knowledge, which struck a chord with Twombly's own aesthetic. Not unlike the Codices of da Vinci, Untitled (Roman Note) is itself a document of historical and cultural import, one within which Twombly’s own gestures unravel with expressive clarity and sobering gravity. Neither poetry nor drawing nor musical score, Twombly embraces an abstract-visual language all his own, one that bespeaks his renowned dialogue with the classical past and evades any sort of direct translation in favor of pure visual sensation.