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Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly, 1958. Photograph by David Lees/Getty Images. Artwork © 2020 Cy Twombly Foundation

Cy Twombly was born Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly on April 25, 1928 in Lexington, Virginia. In 1947, he attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (now a part of Tufts University), where German Expressionism was popular at the time. Twombly, however, gravitated toward his own interests, like Dada and Kurt Schwitters, and particularly Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti, two important early influences. In 1949, Twombly returned to Lexington, studying at Washington and Lee University before receiving a scholarship to the Art Students League, New York in 1950. While in New York, Twombly visited the studio of Willem de Kooning and saw the retrospective of Arshile Gorky at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which he cited later in life as important moments in his young painting life. While in New York, Twombly met Robert Rauschenberg, who encouraged him to attend the Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Twombly did so from 1951 to 1952, studying under Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Ben Shahn.

For eight months spanning 1952-1953, after receiving a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Twombly traveled to Europe for the first time with Rauschenberg. The two travelled through Italy, North Africa, and Spain. This experience influenced some of the first paintings that would be considered a part of Twombly’s mature work. Tiznit (1953), created with white enamel house paint, pencil and crayon, with gouges and scratches in the surface, was named for a town in Morocco that he had visited. It is now part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Upon returning to New York, Eleanor Ward invited Twombly and Rauschenberg to exhibit at her Stable Gallery. In 1958, Twombly left the gallery and began to show with Leo Castelli, who represented Rauschenberg and Johns and was establishing them as presences in the New York art world. In 1957, Twombly travelled again to Italy, establishing a studio in Rome. He continued to live and work in and around Rome, but traveled extensively to areas including the Sahara, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and the United States.

Twombly’s works were exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964 and have been the subject of numerous retrospectives, the first being at the Milwaukee Art Center in 1968. In 1995, the artist was honored with the opening of the Cy Twombly Gallery, an annex of the Menil Collection and specifically devoted to the artist's oeuvre. A similar room devoted entirely to the artist’s work was opened in 1989 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His work can be found in other notable permanent collections, including the Broad Museum, Los Angeles; Museum Brandhorst, Munich; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Tate Modern, London, among others.


Cy Twombly passed away July 5, 2011 at the age of 83 in Rome.

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