Closer Contact with Classical Sources


Apollo and the Artist, Cy Towmbly, 1975

 

Cy Twombly‘s move to Gaeta in Southern Italy in 1957 gave him closer contact with classical sources. From 1961 to 1963 mythological motifs appear with increasing insistence: Leda and the Swan, Venus, Apollo, Achilles. This line of investigation culminated in 1963 with a series of works called Nine Discourses on Commodus, an obscure portrait of the megalomaniacal Roman emperor conceived while Twombly was reading the French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet and looking at the paintings of Francis Bacon. These works were shown at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964, to a New York art world which had by then turned to Pop and Minimalism. Following this exhibition, Twombly’s American enthusiasm ebbed for a number of years. The situation was quite different in Europe, where his work remained a critical success. Nevertheless, the Commodus exhibition represents a crucial moment of rupture in the artist’s career, for, as he commented, it made him ‘the happiest painter around for a couple of years: no one gave a damn what I did’.

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