Cy Twombly’s Untitled, 1970

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Cy Twombly’s Untitled, 1970

A rare and spectacular work by one of the American most important artist of the 20th century - Cy Twombly’s Untitled, 1970. Estimate : $35,000,000-55,000,000

Cy Twombly’s Untitled, 1970

Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art department announces a major work by Cy Twombly, from his famous ‘blackboard’ series to be included in the November evening sale. This majestic lasso-loop painting executed in 1970, marks the culmination of a dramatic and singular period in Twombly’s career. Until now, the work had remained in a prestigious European collection, since it was first acquired directly from the artist. Estimated $35-55 million, Untitled is positioned to break the previous world auction record for the artist. The work will be on view in London and San Francisco before being sold at auction on November 12th.

Twombly’s work had undergone a dramatic change when the artist embarked on an entirely new direction marked by the first of what was to become a highly celebrated series of works now often known as his “blackboard” paintings. Distinguishable for their graphic regularity, and formal restraint, the works also possess a spontaneous lyricism found in the artist’s earlier paintings rooted in the historical, mythological and emotional landscapes of the Mediterranean. 

“Offering both absolute rarity and absolute quality, Untitled is a dynamic and ravishing work coming for the first time at auction and one of the rarest from this scale to remain in private hands. Rooted in abstract expressionism but further defined by his life in Italy, landscapes of the Mediterranean, and Greek and Roman mythology. The ‘blackboard’ paintings were his personal and unique gesture and anticipated a new language that continued throughout his career, in series such as the ‘Bacchus’ (2004) and the ‘Notes to Salalah’ (2005-2007) paintings, declared Laura Paulson, Chairman and International Director for Post-War and Contemporary Art. 

Executed between 1966 and 1971 the ‘blackboard’ paintings were so named because they appeared to have been inspired by the notion of the classroom blackboard or the child’s primer as a temporal and highly graphic conveyor of information. As in Untitled (Rome) of 1970, these paintings were also predominantly painted on swiftly executed dark grey oil-paint backgrounds that resembled the slate of a blackboard. 

With its swirling field of loops drawn in white crayon, the surface becomes a tempestuous sea of energy. This 1970 painting marks a significant development from the first lasso-loop ‘blackboard’ paintings that Twombly had begun in 1966. Using the graphic process of writing, and translating its continuous flow of a single line into a painterly language, Twombly adopted a strict formulaic procedure in order to produce these looped-line works. It is a process that closely echoes the Palmer method of teaching handwriting that in America was often taught to children when they are first learning to write. Indeed, this extremely strict, near mechanical technique, which required pupils to practice handwriting drills on a daily basis moving neither fingers nor wrists but only their arms, was the technique that Twombly himself had been taught. Interestingly too, this method was often accompanied, in Virginia at least, by a teacher counting out time in accordance with the rhythmic nature of the loops that the student was obliged to make. In this way, time, line and the spatial field of the blackboard all became synchronized and integrated into one singular and repetitive discipline. 

In a large-scale painting like Untitled (Rome) of 1970 which was painted upright with the artist standing facing it at close proximity, this all-important ‘feeling’ of the line would have involved the motion of the artist’s whole body. The act of painting or drawing such a work, therefore, becomes a powerful and exhausting physical act in which the act of painting/drawing becomes repetitive and rhythmic dance. In this way, too, the entire process of making the work and the resultant form that Twombly’s line takes as a result of this process is a graphic expression of this, not just mental, but bodily act of feeling, resulting in a majestic tour de force of gesture and emotion.

Image: Cy Twombly (1928-2011), Untitled . Oil based house paint and wax crayon on canvas. 61 1/4 x 74 3/4 in. (155.5 x 190 cm.) Painted in 1970. Estimate : $35,000,000-55,000,000

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Luc Tuymans, Flemish Village 1995.  Collection MuHKA, Antwerp

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