Painted during the highpoint of what Twombly would later term his “Baroque” period, the muted colors and minimal imagery belie a complex and richly symbolic surface. Shadows of underlying blue and gray peek through the scratched and scored layer of white oil paint, adding depth and texture to the canvas. The butterfly-like figure that dominates the composition is rendered in a curvaceous line of blue colored pencil, prefiguring the aqueous loping lines of his later Roman Notes. The scrawled pictogram of a window inscribed at the top of the canvas, a frequently recurring motif in Twombly’s paintings, is often read as a stabilizing force, a witty paradox that plays upon the invocation of reason through analytical geometry yet offers no insight into the composition’s rationale. Study for By The Ionian Sea is thus as rife with allusions, symbols, and calligraphic marks as any of Twombly’s greatest masterpieces.
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