As the Arabians Do

Norman Rockwell preparing to enter a mosque

 

 Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). Sharif’s first English-language role was that of Sharif Ali in David Lean’s historical epic. This performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, as well as a shared Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor.

 

Irish actor Peter O’Toole studying for his role as T.E. Lawrence. Photo by Dennis Oulds

 

Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

 

Robert Pattinson as Lawrence of Arabia in Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog, 2015), based on the life of British traveller, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer and political officer Gertrude Bell.

 

Candice Bergen and Sean Connery in The Wind and the Lion (John Milius, 1975)

 

Virginia Woolf (far left) and her friends, dressed as Abyssinian dignataries, 1910

 

Truman Capote in Tangier (Morocco)

 

Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakesh

 

Christian Louboutin purchased a villa near the Nile river

 

Cy Twombly in Egypt. Photo by Tatiana Franchetti

Treatise on The Veil of Orpheus

“Before, I used to smoke and look, because smoking is very conducive to stimulating the mind. Finally I had to stop because it was overstimulating my lungs. I sort of work off and on and I usually paint eight hours and never eat. And I might have some wine to stimulate a free passage of thought. And I used to have always music playing.”

Cy Twombly

 

Cy Twombly photographed by Robert Rauschenberg, circa 1953

 

Treatise on the Veil (First Version), Cy Twombly, 1968.

 

Treatise on the Veil was inspired by Pierre Henry’s 1953 avant-garde musical composition, (Le voile d’Orphée I) The Veil of Orpheus, which records the tearing of a piece of cloth. In his translation of aural to visual phenomena, Twombly reduces his subject matter to its simplest parts, distilling and crystallizing its formal components so as to strengthen its visceral effects.

The first version of Treatise on the Veil is all the more revealing in this light. More succinct and deliberate in his line, Twombly heightens the contrast between form and background. The rectangles spring from the inky sea beneath them, emphasizing the artist’s mille-feuille technique.

 

Pierre Henry using induction coils to control sound spatially.

 

Veil of Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1968

 

Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1979

 

Orpheus, Cy Twombly, 1979

 

To listen to Pierre Henry’s composition, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

The Canvas Like a Giant Notebook

La botte à nique, Jean Dubuffet, 1971. The present work by Jean Dubuffet forms part of a portfolio of screenprints with reproduction drawings and texts by the artist

 

Apollo and the Artist, Cy Twombly, 1975

 

Plush Safe-He Think, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1981

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work functions in similar way to Cy Twombly’s; the canvas becomes more like a giant notebook page than a finished composition, with words and images, along with scratch marks and other artifacts of the thought process, intermingling freely as a pictorial representation of a train of thought. The work is really a portrait of Basquiat; what he is thinking about, who his influences are, he wears them all on the surface of his canvas like a patch on his sleeve. René Ricard sums it up beautifully later in the article:

 

When Jean-Michel writes in almost subliterate scrawl “Safe plush he think” it is not on a Park Avenue facade that would be totally outside the beggar’s venue but on a rusted-out door in a godforsaken neighborhood. Plush to whom safe from what? His is also the elegance of the clochard who lights up a megot with his pinkie raised. If Cy Twombly and Jean Dubuffet had a baby and gave it up for adoption, it would be Jean-Michel. The elegance of Twombly is there but from the same source (graffiti) and so is the brut of the young Dubuffet. Except the politics of Dubuffet needed a lecture to show, needed a separate text, whereas in Jean-Michel they are integrated by the picture’s necessity. I’d rather have a Jean-Michel than a Cy Twombly. I do not live in the classical city. My neighborhood is unsafe.

Hérodiade

Heriodade, Cy Twombly, 1960

Herodiade takes its title from Mallarmé’s dramatic poem and includes direct quotations from the poem transcribed onto the canvas.

 

I. ANCIENT OVERTURE OF HÉRODIADE

The Nurse

(Incantation)

Abolished, and her frightful wing in the tears

Of the basin, abolished, that mirrors forth our fears,

The naked golds lashing the crimson space,

An Aurora—heraldic plumage—has chosen to embrace

Our cinerary tower of sacrifice,

Heavy tomb that a songbird has fled, lone caprice

Of a dawn vainly decked out in ebony plumes…

Ah, mansion this sad, fallen country assumes!

No splashing! the gloomy water, standing still,

No longer visited by snowy quill

Or fabled swan, reflects the bereaving

Of autumn extinguished by its own unleaving,

Of the swan when amidst the cold white tomb

Of its feathers, it buried its head, undone

By the pure diamond of a star, but one

Of long ago, which never even shone.

Crime! torture! ancient dawn! bright pyre!

Empurpled sky, complicit in the mire,

And stained-glass windows opening red on carnage.

The strange chamber, framed in all the baggage

Of a warlike age, its goldwork dull and faint,

Has yesteryear’s snows instead of its ancient tint;

And its pearl-gray tapestry, useless creases

With the buried eyes of prophetesses

Offering Magi withered fingers. One,

With floral past enwoven on my gown

Bleached in an ivory chest and with a sky

Bestrewn with birds amidst the embroidery

Of tarnished silver, seems a phantom risen,

An aroma, roses, rising from the hidden

Couch, now void, the snuffed-out candle shrouds,

An aroma, over the sachet, of frozen golds,

A drift of flowers unfaithful to the moon

(Though the taper’s quenched, petals still fall from one),

Flowers whose long regrets and stems appear

Drenched in a lonely vase to languish there…

An Aurora dragged her wings in the basin’s tears!

Magical shadow with symbolic powers!

A voice from the distant past, an evocation,

Is it not mine prepared for incantation?

In the yellow folds of thought, still unexhumed,

Lingering, and like an antique cloth perfumed,

Spread on a pile of monstrances grown cold,

Through ancient hollows and through stiffened folds

Pierced in the rhythm of the pure lace shroud

Through which the old veiled brightness is allowed

To mount, in desperation, shall arise

(But oh, the distance hidden in those cries!)

The old veiled brightness of a strange gilt-silver,

Of the languishing voice, estranged and unfamiliar:

Will it scatter its gold in an ultimate splendor,

And, in the hour of its agony, render

Itself as the anthem for psalms of petition?

For all are alike in being brought to perdition

By the power of old silence and deepening gloom,

Fated, monotonous, vanquished, undone,

Like the sluggish waters of an ancient pond.

Sometimes she sang an incoherent song.

Lamentable sign!

the bed of vellum sheets,

Useless and closed–not linen!—vainly waits,

Bereft now of the cherished grammary

That spelled the figured folds of reverie,

The silken tent that harbored memory,

The fragrance of sleeping hair. Were these its treasure?

Cold child, she held within her subtle pleasure,

Shivering with flowers in her walks at dawn,

Or when the pomegranate’s flesh is torn

By wicked night! Alone, the crescent moon

On the iron clockface is a pendulum

Suspending Lucifer: the clepsydra pours

Dark drops in grief upon the stricken hours

As, wounded, each one wanders a dim shade

On undeciphered paths without a guide!

All this the king knows not, whose salary

Has fed so long this agèd breast now dry.

Her father knows it no more than the cruel

Glacier mirroring his arms of steel,

When sprawled on a pile of corpses without coffins

Smelling obscurely of resin, he deafens

With dark silver trumpets the ancient pines!

Will he ever come back from the Cisalpines?

Soon enough! for all is bad dream and foreboding!

On the fingernail raised in the stained glass, according

To the memory of the trumpets, the old sky burns,

And to an envious candle it turns

A finger. And soon, when the sad sun sinks,

It shall pierce through the body of wax till it shrinks!

No sunset, but the red awakening

Of the last day concluding everything

Struggles so sadly that time disappears,

The redness of apocalypse, whose tears

Fall on the child, exiled to her own proud

Heart, as the swan makes its plumage a shroud

For its eyes, the old swan, and is carried away

From the plumage of grief to the eternal highway

Of its hopes, where it looks on the diamonds divine

Of a moribund star, which never more shall shine!

Stepháne Mallarmé

 

The poem Hérodiade was in fact never completed, but there is little doubt that the scene between Herodias and her nurse (the only part published under Mallarmé’s supervision) dates from 1864 to 1865. The heroine of Hérodiade is the biblical character more generally known as Salome, but Mallarmé may have preferred the alternative name so as to emphasize that he was concerned not with the sensuous dancer of popular legend but with an ascetic figure who is repelled by the slightest contact with the sensual world, and who, in the later, uncompleted stages of the play, was to demand the head of John the Baptist because he had inadvertently caught a glimpse of her naked body.

Arcadian Painters

“I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time.”
Cy Twombly

 

Study of The Triumph of Pan, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1636

 

The Triumph of Pan, Nicolas Poussin, 1636

 

This depiction of a mythical celebration shows nymphs and satyrs revelling before a statue of Pan, the god of woods and fields. Pan’s identity in this work may have been combined with that of Priapus, a deity of gardens. Both are associated with fertility and Bacchic ritual. The painting contains a number of literary and visual references; the instruments being played, the sacrificial deer and the props in the foreground are all either attributes of Pan and Priapus, or are linked with such rites. These include panpipes, theatrical masks (comedy, tragedy and satire), and a shepherd’s staff.

This painting is a milestone in Nicolas Poussin‘s career, and shows him with characteristic rigour reforming his style by turning to the examples of classical antiquity and the early Renaissance. For his contemporaries it must have seemed like a reversion to primitivism, but it nevertheless established the basis of the style which was to serve him for the rest of his career.

This picture was commissioned by Cardinal de Richelieu and dispatched from Rome to Paris in May 1636. With its companion, The Triumph of Bacchus (Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), it was designed to form part of the decoration of the Cabinet du Roi in the Château de Richelieu. There are a number of preparatory drawings by Poussin for this painting, including some in the collection of H.M. The Queen at Windsor Castle.

 

The Triumph of Bacchus, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1636

 

In 2011, Dulwich Picture Gallery (London) organised a revelatory exhibition of the work of Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly. This major show explored, for the first time, the unexpected yet numerous parallels and affinities between the two artists.

In 1624 and 1957, The two artists, aged around thirty, moved to Rome (in 1624 and 1957 respectively). Nicolas Poussin and Cy Twombly spent the majority of their lives in the Eternal City, and went on to become the pre-eminent painters of their day. Rather than recent exhibitions that have sought to compare and contrast old masters with contemporary artists through superficial visual appearances, this groundbreaking show instead juxtaposed works which may seem radically disparate in terms of style, yet ones that share deep and timeless interests. Both Poussin and Twombly were artists of prodigious talent who found in the classical heritage of Rome a life-long subject. Both spent their lives studying, revivifying and making newly relevant for their own eras antiquity, ancient history, classical mythology, Renaissance painting, poetry and the imaginary, idealized realm of Arcadia.

Curated by Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of International Modern Art at Tate Modern, the exhibition examined how Twombly and Poussin, although separated by three centuries, nonetheless engaged with the same sources and explored the overlapping subjects that the two artists have shared.

 

Pan, Cy Twombly, 1975

 

Bacchanalia-Fall (5 Days in November) Blatt 4, InvNr. UAB 457, Cy Twombly, 1977

 

Pan II, Cy Twombly, 1980

The Finesse of The Individual Mark

“One could say that any child could make a drawing like Twombly only in the sense that any fool with a hammer could fragment sculptures as Rodin did, or any house painter could spatter paint as well as Pollock. In none of these cases would it be true. In each case the art lies not so much in the finesse of the individual mark, but in the orchestration of a previously uncodified set of personal “rules” about where to act and where not, how far to go and when to stop, in such a way as the cumulative courtship of seeming chaos defines an original, hybrid kind of order, which in turn illuminates a complex sense of human experience not voiced or left marginal in previous art.”

Kirk Varnedoe

 

Cyrus Alessandro Twombly and his pet posing in front of a large-scale painting by Cy Twombly. Photo: Horst P. Horst, 1966

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’.

Hymn of Apollo

Apollo, Cy Towmbly, 1975

 

I.
The sleepless Hours who watch me as I lie,
Curtained with star-inwoven tapestries,
From the broad moonlight of the sky,
Fanning the busy dreams from my dim eyes,–
Waken me when their Mother, the gray Dawn,
Tells them that dreams and that the moon is gone.

II.
Then I arise, and climbing Heaven’s blue dome,
I walk over the mountains and the waves,
Leaving my robe upon the ocean foam;
My footsteps pave the clouds with fire; the caves
Are filled with my bright presence, and the air
Leaves the green Earth to my embraces bare.

III.
The sunbeams are my shafts, with which I kill
Deceit, that loves the night and fears the day;
All men who do or even imagine ill
Fly me, and from the glory of my ray
Good minds and open actions take new might,
Until diminished by the reign of Night.

IV.
I feed the clouds, the rainbows, and the flowers,
With their ethereal colors; the Moon’s globe,
And the pure stars in their eternal bowers,
Are cinctured with my power as with a robe;
Whatever lamps on Earth or Heaven may shine,
Are portions of one power, which is mine.

V.
I stand at noon upon the peak of Heaven;
Then with unwilling steps I wander down
Into the clouds of the Atlantic even;
For grief that I depart they weep and frown:
What look is more delightful than the smile
With which I soothe them from the western isle?

VI.
I am the eye with which the Universe
Beholds itself, and knows it is divine;
All harmony of instrument or verse,
All prophecy, all medicine, is mine,
All light of art or nature; – to my song
Victory and praise in its own right belong.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Roses as Sentimental Despair

 

The Rose VI and The Rose V, Cy Twombly, 2008

 

THE ROSES XXVI

“Infinitely at ease
despite so many risks,
with no variation
of her usual routine,
the blooming rose is the omen
of her immeasurable endurance.

Do we know how she survives?
No doubt one of her days
is all the earth and all
of our infinity.”

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated from French by A. Poulin Jr.

 

The Rose series recall Cy Twombly‘s earlier cycle of paintings, Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair (1985), which also referred to quotations by Rilke, as well as Rumi and Giacomo Leopardi, embracing conceptions of nature dominated by its inevitable demise. Twombly’s ardent, bold, and often flamboyant use of colour has other affinities — with Andy Warhol‘s Flower series, for example, or Henri Matisse‘s late paper cut-outs. But just as the rose recurs throughout Rilke’s work as a memento mori, so does Twombly employ the motifs and conditions of the natural world to allude to the pleasure and transience of life.

Towmbly and The Orphic Poet

Untitled, Cy Twombly, circa 1987

 

The poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke has inspired a number of Cy Twombly’s sculptures and paintings. Here the last line from Rilke’s Duino Elegies is scribbled onto a piece of card at the base of the work: ‘And we who have always thought of happiness, climbing, would feel the emotion that almost startles when happiness falls’. The sculpture itself resembles a slender tree that has broken in two. The broken section leans almost vertically against the still upright other half.

There is a felicitous symmetry in Twombly’s incorporation of Rilke’s elegiac prose, given the role of art in the poet’s work. Twombly’s Orpheus (Thou unending trace) draws its title phrase from a verse of Sonnets to Orpheus, Rilke’s 1922 homage to his mythological forebear. The songs of Orpheus, the progenitor of poetry and music, could impel stones and trees to move, and his “unending trace” is the lyric art that lives on despite his death at the hands of the maenads.

 

The importance of the modern German poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Twombly includes the figure of the Orphic poet and their shared interest in the ancient River Nile. Twombly’s Egyptian series, Coronation of Sesostris, 2000, represents a late flowering of his remarkable graphic inventiveness.

The Painted World

In the artist’s studio in Gaeta, a coastal town on the Mediterranean, works related to his Four Seasons series include details of Primavera (left) and Estate (right). The canvases, shown when still in progress in 1994, are nailed

 
 

Cy Twombly enjoying local fare at a restaurant in Rome

 
 

Another Twombly painting is propped against a wall in the house, where white tiles cover most of the floors

 
 

In the bright open Gaeta house, a second version of Inverno from Twombly’s Four Seasons series hangs against a wall for inspection. Books of poetry, postcards, acrylics and oils, crayons and pencils fill a table

 
 

Twombly in the terraced garden outside the Gaeta house

 
 

A still life in one of the house’s many rooms

 
 

Found frames and French and American flags are propped against the walls in a hallway. Furniture is covered casually in a room behind

 
 

A Twombly sculpture and an antique stool and frame in another room in the apartment

 
 

The artist in his vast, spare apartment on the via Monserrato in Rome, which house his collection of classical pieces

 
 

Photos by Bruce Weber

Text by Dodie Kazanjian

Vogue, 1994

 
 

The taxi doesn’t quite make it up the steep hill to Cy Twombly’s house in Gaeta. At the third hairpin turn we get out and walk the remaining 20 yards to a gray steel door embedded in a rough stone wall. Twombly has a little trouble opening it. Tall, lanky, dressed in rumpled white linen pants held up by blue suspenders, he looks more like a provincial winegrower than a famous artist. The door grates on its hinges, and we’re inside a paradise of thick white walls, terraces, ceramic tile floors, and cool interconnecting rooms bare of furniture except for a few striking pieces—bleached Louis XV chairs, a long table piled high with books, blue-and-white fabrics, ornate empty picture frames, Twombly paintings leaning against the walls, and one or two of his little-known, gawky, white-painted sculptures. Twombly throws back the shutters in each room, flooding the house with light and opening up dazzling vistas of the seaside town and the blue Mediterranean.
On the train down from Rome this morning Twombly started telling me and my husband, an old friend of his, about the town as soon as it came into view around the shoulder of a mountain. “Hadrian had a villa here,” he said. “Cicero is buried here, and so is the Roman general who founded Lyon. Catullus had friends here. It was kind of a summer art colony, like East Hampton, but not anymore—that was 2,000 years ago. Gaeta was the name of Aeneas’s wet nurse. She was with him on his return from Troy, and she died here, so he named the place after her. I believe that. Nobody could make that up.” Twombly is full of history, which he relays in the accents of his Virginia childhood. Even his Italian comes out that way—when he says si, si, which he does a lot, it has a southern drawl to it.

Gaeta, 60 miles north of Naples, is where Twombly has done most of his painting in the last few years. Tacked to the wall in the high-ceilinged room he uses as his studio is a large vertical canvas, more than ten feet tall. Titled Summer, it is the last of a series on the four seasons, which will be shown at the Twombly retrospective that opens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this month and then travels to Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin. Autumn, Winter, and Spring (in that order) were finished months ago and have already been shipped to the museum. But “I’m having a real bad time with Summer,” he had told me several times when I spoke with him by telephone from New York. The painting is still unfinished, and Twombly is not happy about letting us see it. When we start asking questions about the Four Seasons, he bristles. “It’s not Four Seasons,” he says. “That sounds like the Four Seasons Hotel. I think of them as Quattro Stagioni. Summer isn’t finished yet, as I told you, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. It’s absurd to talk about paintings that you haven’t finished.”
Cy Twombly is the great outsider of contemporary art. In 1957, at the precise moment when the main energy of the art world seemed to have taken up permanent residence in New York, Twombly moved to Rome. Two years later, he married Tatiana Franchetti, a talented portrait painter from a wealthy and aristocratic Italian family, and he has lived in Italy, more or less, ever since. While his fellow southerners Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were using popular imagery and mundane objects to blaze the trails that would lead to Pop and Minimal art, Twombly chose a different direction entirely. His would lead back through European art and literature to the ancient world of classical mythology, of gods and heroes and the great poetic traditions of the Mediterranean, which in his paintings merges indistinguishably with the modern urban street culture of graffiti, sexual imagery, and raw sensation. His work seems to exist in another time zone.

But Twombly’s work has never been easy to like. The scribbles, smears, blots, and seemingly random markings of his intensely personal style have often evoked the kind of philistine response that says, “My kid could do better than that.” Artists love his work, but will the public come to see it at MoMA? Twombly is definitely “an acquired taste, even within the art world,” says curator Mark Rosenthal, who tried to do a Twombly retrospective a few years ago while at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—Twombly initially agreed but changed his mind in midstream. The National Endowment for the Arts refused to give a grant to the current show, and the Modern was unable to line up a major corporate sponsor.
Twombly is famously difficult and famously elusive, and this has not made his work any easier to see. Ever since the disastrous 1964 show of his Commodus paintings at the Castelli Gallery in New York—their fervid painterliness seemed out of step with the hard-edged commercial imagery of Pop Art, then in ascendance, and nothing was sold—he has shown infrequently in this country. “Cy just evaporated,” according to Leo Castelli. Twombly has avoided exclusive commitments with any dealer, preferring to control the distribution of his rare new paintings through one or two close associates, and much of his major work is in European, not American, collections.
Twombly goes off to another part of the house, leaving us alone with the painting. In addition to Summer, there are three other unstretched canvases nailed to the walls of his studio, part of a second series on the same Quattro Stagioni theme. Twombly often paints a subject more than once: There are four versions of Leda and the Swan, two of the School of Athens, two of Birth of Venus.) His worktables are covered with oil crayons; pencils; tubes of pigment; postcard reproductions of boats and marine scenes; a big Manet art book open to a page that shows a boat painting; stacks of other art books (Ensor, Whistler, Turner); and a book of modern Greek poems in translation, turned to George Seferis’s Three Secret Poems. Several lines of one stanza have been altered by Twombly, with some words inked out. A section of the edited and spliced poem (with a few new words added by Twombly) is written on the canvas of Summer, in Twombly’s inimitable, childish scrawl:

“the shard of white . . .
trembling with white light
with white flat sea
distant in memory
between the deluge of life
our dearest, our white youth
our white, our snow white youth
that is infinity . . .”

Twombly’s paintings often seem to be as much written as painted. His spindly, meandering letters and words can evoke memory and emotion with the power of Chinese calligraphy, but their effect is never literary—the words work within the visual field of a master painter. And Twombly has never painted better than in his Four Seasons series. The paint is luscious, active, full of violent movement. The image of a spectral boat with oars, which recurs throughout the series, is gray in Summer, but hot yellows and reds predominate—sun colors, on a mostly white or unpainted ground. The cut-up lines of poetry appear and disappear, run down one side of the canvas, sometimes partially smudged or painted over. It’s vintage Twombly, aggressive, hesitant, tough, nervous, scatological, poetic, complex, playful, ancient, up-to-the-minute, intensely personal, and grand—a bundle of contradictory impulses that miraculously work together.

Comparisons are inevitable between Twombly’s Four Seasons and Jasper Johns’s four paintings on the same theme, which were done between 1985 and 1986. Twombly had been thinking about the seasons theme for a long time. He played with it in earlier works, such as the 1961 Empire of Flora and the four-panel 1977 Bacchanalia, and in recent years, as the main emphasis in his work has shifted from history and myth to nature, he became drawn to what is, after all, one of the great themes of European art. “All of Jasper’s seasons look like winter,” Twombly says with a sly chuckle. “Mine all look like summer.”

That may have been the way they started, but it’s not true any longer. Autunno is saturated with the deep reds and throbbing purples of the wine harvest; it has the word Silenus, the wine god, written across it, and, near the right edge, the words pure wild sex. This is a long way from the stately black-and-yellow Inverno, and the raspy yellows and reds of Primavera, a raw rite of spring, with jagged boat shapes up and down the middle. The day after he finally finished the last in the series, Twombly told me, “My head is completely burning up. All I’m doing is seeing yellow. I wake up in the morning, and the white walls look yellow. I had a great deal of trouble with Summer. At a certain point I was ready to throw in the brush. But I got crazy in a good way here.” By this time, however, the painting my husband and I had seen no longer existed. Twombly had decided to start over on a fresh canvas. I went to see it the day it arrived in New York. You could still smell the paint. It was simpler than the previous one, and much more liquid, wet and runny, with molten streaks of red and yellow and orange. “High on light” was scrawled on the left side in red, “how the dizziness/slipped away/like a fish in the/sea.”

Two days before the trip to Gaeta, in Twombly’s apartment on the via Monserrato in Rome, we had seen a quartet of paintings on the four seasons by an anonymous seventeenth-century Italian mannerist, part of Twombly’s wide-ranging and eccentric collection. Also two huge dark eighteenth-century landscapes by John Wootton, whom Twombly described as the English artist who introduced the work of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin to England. “I look at a lot of artists,’ ” he says. “I’m inspired by—I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘inspired,’ but it’s not really influenced. I am inspired. Art comes from art.” Classical busts of Apollo, Venus, Marcus Aurelius, and other worthies stand on pedestals in the rather grandiose, white-walled rooms of the Rome apartment, where the furniture looks as though it never gets much use.

Twombly started buying antiquities on his first visit to Rome, with Robert Rauschenberg, in 1952. “He spent my half of our grant on Roman sculpture,” according to Rauschenberg. “So I had to go off and get a job with Atlas Construction in Casablanca.” Twombly quit buying classical antiquities a few years ago. “New York decorators started putting a classical torso in every room, and it became impossible,” he says. But when we walk with him in Rome, he constantly stops to look at objects in shop windows—a malachite clock, a tiny piano (“It must have been Mozart’s first”), a miniature sarcophagus with a lapis top (“It’s not very good lapis. The best lapis comes from Afghanistan”). His eagle eye for quality deceives some people into thinking of him as a great decorator, but his various domestic interiors, striking as they are, have almost nothing to do with decoration, or with comfort, either. They all have the transient look of spaces that are used primarily for work.

When Twombly and Rauschenberg were together at Black Mountain College, they were exposed to what their fellow student Francine du Plessix Gray describes as a “grab bag” approach to world culture. “We were reading Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur and then Virgil because Pound tells you to read Virgil and Fenollosa on Japanese art and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground and Leo Frobenius on African rock painting and Pausanias’s Description of Greece. This sort of nativist American grab-bag attitude reminds me very much of the cultural map implied in Cy’s paintings.”
It might also be said to describe the kind of restless life that Twombly has chosen to lead. For years now, he has spent very little time in Rome. He owns a sixteenth-century villa in Bassano, near the gardens of Bomarzo, an hour north of Rome. Many of his paintings and drawings have been done during temporary stays in other places he likes—Sperlonga, Mykonos, the Seychelles, Robert Rauschenberg’s house on Captiva Island in Florida, an Italian friend’s villa in Bolsena. He travels all the time, sometimes with his wife, Tatiana, who nevertheless leads a highly independent life of her own, and whose hobby is collecting old rosebushes—she was on a rose hunt in Turkistan at the time of our visit to Gaeta. (Their 34-year-old son, Alessandro, who is also a painter, collects iris tubers.) “I fall in love with places,” Twombly tells us. He fell in love with Paris a few years back, rented and furnished an apartment there, but never stayed in it; he found he preferred his circular corner room at the Left Bank Hôtel de la Louisiane. “Simone de Beauvoir lived there. Sartre, too, but of course he went home to mama every night, like a good French writer.”

Last year he rediscovered Lexington, Virginia, where he grew up. He recently bought a house in the town and now spends several months a year there. “I’m like an old dog who’s come home to die. I see people I grew up with, but I can’t talk about old times with them. I can’t remember any of that. It’s not a nostalgic trip for me.” His father, a coach and, later, athletic director at Washington and Lee University there, had acquired the nickname Cy (after the legendary pitcher Cy Young) when he pitched for the Chicago White Sox one summer. He passed it on to his only son, who showed no enthusiasm for organized athletics. Cy’s parents came from old-line New England families—as a boy, he used to visit his grandparents in Bar Harbor, Boston, and Palm Beach—and a sense of that old American aristocracy is never far from the surface of his laconic, laid-back personality. “When he moved to Italy, I think he was recovering that aristocracy that he always felt by nature,” says Rauschenberg. “I couldn’t forget that he couldn’t forget it.”

Twombly has always been a loner. Unlike most successful artists these days, he has no studio assistants and wants nobody around when he’s working. This sometimes leads to odd working habits. “One Twombly I really love is called Untitled, 1958,” says cult-film director John Waters. “It’s all on the very bottom of the painting. It looks like the artist climbed up a ladder, but it was hung so high he could only reach the very bottom. He barely managed a scribble, hardly a mark. And then he fell off the ladder and died. I love art that does that, that makes people crazy.” Waters wasn’t just fantasizing, as it turns out. “I just finished a big painting, sixteen meters long and four meters high, that I’ve been working on, off and on, for ten years,” Twombly tells me. “It’s hard for me to get up on a ladder because I’m all alone in the studio. I could fall off and be lying on the floor for days. So most things happen at the bottom of the painting.”

Twombly answers his own phone—when and if he feels like it. Friends used to reach him by letting his number ring twice, hanging up, and dialing again, but that system is no longer operative. He hates being interviewed or photographed, rules out tape recorders or notebooks, and balks at any sort of direct questions about his life or his painting. (He agreed to teach a philosophy seminar at Washington and Lee last spring and chose his own subject: the idea of metamorphosis. But he quit after one session because the students “asked too many questions.”) He’s definitive in his likes and dislikes—good, unpretentious trattorias over four-star showplaces; espresso in a glass (“It tastes much smoother than in porcelain, like tea tastes better from a china than a silver pot”); shirts and underpants from Brooks Brothers; white linen pants from “Banana” (he means Banana Republic); Bass loafers because “they’re the only ones who make the nonshiny kind”; a 1940s white double-breasted whipcord jacket that he found at a thrift shop. He reads for two or three hours every day in his eclectic fashion—history, poetry, travel books, Walter Pater’s essays, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. He’s never liked the process of printmaking, “because you have to work with all those other people.” He doesn’t want to think of himself as a professional painter (the aristocratic prejudice again), and he works only when he feels like it—sometimes months will go by when he doesn’t paint. He hates to make plans or schedules, moves from place to place on impulse, doesn’t always show up when he’s invited somewhere. “Cy says he’ll be there in half an hour,” Rauschenberg quips, “but he doesn’t say which month.”

Twombly has always been astute about placing his work, and now it is about to become much more visible in the United States, and not just at the Modern. Fifty Days at lliam, his ten-part painting on the theme of the Trojan War, has been on permanent display since 1989, in a space of its own, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Cy is aware that he misspelled Iliam—it should be Ilium. He laughs off the story that he once said, “My painting isn’t getting better, but my spelling is.”) The Menil Collection in Houston is building a special addition that will be, in effect, a one-man Twombly museum, although Twombly, who designed the floor plan in collaboration with architect Renzo Piano, prefers to call it a gallery; the inauguration will be next February, when MoMA’s Twombly show comes to Houston. The Dia Center for the Arts in New York, which has a large collection of Twombly’s work, plans to install most of it in 1996 in a newly created space on West Twenty-second Street. Twombly has been generous with these institutions because they are so obviously dedicated to his work, but there is no doubt who calls the shots and controls the way his work will be seen. Asked whom to go to for a new Twombly painting, he replies, “I have them.”

Twombly is showing us his garden in Gaeta, a terraced landscape on the hill above the house. It’s a series of what he calls stanze segrete, “secret rooms,” each defined by a different tree—pleached lindens, lemon trees, square-and-cone-shaped laurels, orange trees—with hedges of olive and laurel. It’s a green garden with no flowers. “I hate roses,” he says. “Don’t you? It’s all right if you can hide them in a cutting garden, but I think a rose garden is the height of ick.” Each “room” has stunning views of the sea and of the two ancient castles on the next hill. The red-tile roofs of his own house are directly below. “I love that,” he drawls. “It looks like an Arab village.” He is less pleased with the church next door. “It’s a hideous nineteenth- century Victorian church,” he says, “where everybody wants to get married.”

We walk down the hill for lunch at his favorite local trattoria. It’s full of large families enjoying Sunday dinner. “Sit over there,” he tells me, “so you won’t have to look at the babies.” Kids run in and out and between the tables, getting into fights. “Alessandro was such a good child,” Twombly says ruefully. “If you sent him out to play, he’d send back a note saying, ‘I’m in the garden.’ ” I make the mistake of trying to get him to talk about his New England family (without asking any direct questions), and the undercurrent of irritation that has been building up in him suddenly erupts. “I swear if I had to do this over again, I would just do the paintings and never show them. And then after I’m dead, they could talk about them all they want. I’m just not interested in myself that way. I was brought up to think you don’t talk about yourself. I hate all this. Why should I have to talk about the paintings. I do them, isn’t that enough?”
The storm passes, and we finish lunch. Walking through town afterward, along the seawall, Twombly is friendly and conversational, pointing out the thirteenth-century campanile with its Moorish inlaid tiles and saying how much better the town would look if the houses were all painted white. Twombly has made the ancient world of the Mediterranean his own. He likes to say that he has no sense of time. “Sometimes when I’m writing the date on a letter, I have to ask what year it is.” He talks about the illustrated books he wants to do after he gets through the “anguish” of the Modern show. Some years ago, he did illustrations for the Odes of Horace and for Edmund Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender. “I like bucolic poetry,” he says. “Theocritus, Virgil. I’m from an agrarian part of the country. Although I wouldn’t do it if I was in America. When I used to spend time in Bassano, you could still see shepherds tending flocks of goats. Once I actually saw one throw himself down under a tree and play a flute. It still lives here, that Mediterranean world. And nothing that’s living is old to me.”

Twombly’s Venus

Venus, Cy Twombly, 1975.

 
 

Cy Twombly often inscribed on paintings the names of mythological figures during the 1960s. Twombly’s move to Gaeta in Southern Italy in 1957 gave him closer contact with classical sources. From 1962 he produced a cycle of works based on myths including Leda and the Swan and The Birth of Venus; myths were frequent themes of Twombly’s 1960s work. Between 1960 and 1963 Twombly painted the rape of Leda by the god Zeus/Jupiter in the form of a Swan six times, once in 1960, twice in 1962 and three times in 1963.

 
 

Venus and Adonis, 1978

 
 

Pseudo-mathematical equations, hasty doodles, compendiums of graph paper, finger-painting, splotching and erasing (always erasing)–anything Mr. Twombly puts his hand to is reliable in its insouciance and consummately superficial. He can be pretentious, too: In a suite of drawings from the mid-1970′s, Mr. Twombly lists the names of mythical figures (Venus, Apollo, Pan and the like) as if an array of artful scrawls could somehow embody one of humankind’s grander fictions.

Together with Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Twombly is regarded as the most important representative of a generation of artists who distanced themselves from Abstract Expressionism.

Twombly & Rauschenberg

During the late forties Cy Twombly‘s main interests were German Expressionism, the Dada movement, Kurt Schwitters‘ as well as Chaim Soutine‘s work. Saw for the first time reproductions of works by Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti which greatly impressed him.

Twombly arrived in Manhattan in 1950 while the New York School painting of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning was in full swing. That same year he continued his studies at the Art Students League in New York City on a tuition scholarship. During the second semester met Robert Rauschenburg who was the first person of his own age to share the same interests and preoccupations as an artist. Upon Robert Rauschenberg’s encouragement, Twombly joined him for the 1951–1952 sessions at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina – a liberal refuge, a site of free experimentation and exchange in a nation growing increasingly conservative during the Cold War. Among the influential teachers present at this time were Charles Olson, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and John Cage. Building on the freedom afforded by the previous generation, the younger artists emphasised libidinal energy integrated through experience.

For eight months spanning 1952–1953 Twombly and Rauschenberg travelled through Europe and north Africa, joined for a while by the writer Paul Bowles. Upon returning to New York, Rauschenberg set up the Fulton Street studio that Twombly sometimes shared. Eleanor Ward invited the two artists to exhibit at her Stable Gallery.

 

Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg. Robert Rauschenberg, Venice, 1952

 

Portraits of Cy Twombly by his colleague Robert Rauschenberg

Twombly Squiggles Clothing Lines

Cy Twombly in his Roman residence, circa 1960

 
 

Models in Twombly’s residence wearing Valentino. Photo: Henry Clarke. March 15, 1968

 
 

Wool Valentino coat with a wooden belt. Photo: Henry Clarke.

 
 

Marisa Berenson also wearing Valentino

 
 

Edetta Barzini wearing blue coat with circular pattern and matching hat by Mila Schön. Photo: Henry Clarke, 1968

 
 

untitled_1970aUntitled, Cy Twombly, 1970

 
 

Proenza Schouler  2006 AW Collection

 
 

Colombiamoda 2012. “Cy” collection, by Isabel Henao

Leda and the Swan

Leda and the Swan is a story and subject in art from Greek mythology in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes, Leda. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. In the W.B. Yeats version, it is subtly suggested that Clytemnestra, although being the daughter of Tyndareus, has somehow been traumatized by what the swan has done to her mother. According to many versions of the story, Zeus took the form of a swan and raped or seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid two eggs from which the children hatched.In other versions, Helen is a daughter of Nemesis, the goddess who personified the disaster that awaited those suffering from the pride of Hubris.

 
 

Greco-roman mosaic

 
 

Giovanni Battista

 
 

(atributed to) Leonardo da Vinci

 
 

Raphael

 
 

Virgil Solis

 
 

Cesare da Sesto

 
 

Michelangelo Buonarroti

 
 

Ridolfo Ghirlandaio

 
 

Paolo Veronese

 
 

Peter Paul Rubens

 
 

François-Edouard Picot

 
 

Théodore Géricault

 
 

Giovanni Boldini

 
 

Paul Cézanne

 
 

Gustav Klimt

 
 

Henri Matisse

 
 

Cy Twombly

 
 

Jerzy Hulewicz

 
 

François Boucher

 
 

Gustave Moreau

 
 

Salvador Dalí

 
 

Jacopo Robusti (Tintoretto)

 
 

Arturo Michelena

 
 

Fernando Botero

 
 

Constantin Brâncuși

 
 

Frederic Leighton

 
 

Warwick Globe

 
 

Louis Icart

 
 

Sam Taylor Wood

 
 

Helmut Newton

 
 

Joel Peter Witkin

 
 

Kate Moss photographed by Steve Klein

 
 

Derrick Santini