With its vigorous application of paint and affectionate use of the hand, Leda and the Swan is an apex example of the artist’s fusing of myth, eroticism and history. Revisiting the story of Leda’s seduction by the Greek god Zeus, or his Roman counterpart, Jupiter, in the form of a swan*, Twombly’s adaptation of this classical story inspired an increasingly baroque tendency that emerged in his work during the early 1960s, dramatically enriching the strongly tactile and sensual nature of his art. Throughout these paintings from the early 1960s, the artist not only arrives at, but fully executes some of the most empowering themes found throughout his oeuvre.
Leda and the Swan is part of a cycle of works that resulted from the explosive and highly physical release of passion, seduction and visceral energy that had defined Twombly’s Ferragosto paintings, which were executed throughout the hot summer months of 1961. Demonstrating this new, distinctly Baroque mix of eroticism and violence, Leda and the Swan exemplifies the “blood and foam” style that dominated the artist’s work until 1966.
The myth of “Leda and the Swan” is among dramatic and tumultuous themes in Twombly’s work of the early 1960s. A magnum opus of the artist’s oeuvre, Leda and the Swan fully articulates Twombly’s desire to defeat tradition even as he engaged with it. Immersing himself in ancient Greek and Roman literature, Twombly demonstrates the breadth of the artist’s cultural immersion in his Mediterranean surroundings.
Cy Twombly, Leda and the Swan, 1962, oil, lead pencil and wax crayon on canvas