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Poster Study for ‘Nine Discourses on Commodus by Cy Twombly at Leo Castelli’
Signed and titled on reverse, and dated March 1964 Pencil and colored pencil on paper 69.9 x 50.2 cm (27 ½ x 19 ¾ in.) Executed in 1964 Provenance: Studio Febo, Rome The Lone Star Foundation, Inc. New York (acquired from the above in June 1977) Acquired by the private collector from the above in August 1980 Sotheby’s New York: Thursday, November 14, 2013 [Lot 00188] Karl Hutter Fine Art, Beverly Hills Private collection, California This lot is under temporary exportation and is subject to import tax (EU). Mark making and drawing, be it graphite on paper or canvas, consistently engaged Cy Twombly throughout his career. This striking drawing with its intrinsic aesthetic of chaos, confusion and instability refers to a well known cycle of paintings, and a now famous Castelli exhibition that marked an importantpoint in Twombly’s career. It is an enigmatic piece, where the red, and the marks at the top relate to several of the works in the painting series. The gray background of this drawing counterbalances the bloody whirls of the smears, scratches and scribbles. The existential anguish of these expressive methods was inspired as well by paintings of Francis Bacon. A numerical sequence and the grid around the red smears reflect the composition of all nine paintings of the series. In March 1964, the Leo Castelli Gallery heldan exhibition in New York, Nine Discourse on Commodus by Cy Twombly. Realised in the winter of 1963, the paintings were named after the brutal Roman emperor Commodus, and created in response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The mode of the chosen historical references was somber and anxious and defined subject matter of Twombly’s oeuvre in the early 1960s. A son and successor of Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Aurelius Commodus (AD 161 – 192) was an Emperor of Rome for twelve years, during which period stability and prosperity of Rome declined. Commodus lapsed into madness and believed himself to be a reincarnation of Hercule before he was killed by the conspirators, and Rome fell into civil war. At the time Twombly was living in Europe, but these paintings were first shown to an American audience enraptured by Minimalism and Pop. As such, Twombly’s paintings and classical references were not well received, and were described even by Castelli in 1969 as «sort of Europeanized and precious». The paintings proved to be too ahead of their time, and they were not exhibited again until 1979. However, they are now considered to be one of Twombly’s most important series, marking a critical period in his career, and this exhibition has become a significant story in the artist’s history. In 2007 the paintings of the series were acquired by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and in 2017 were prominently displayed at the Centre Georges Pompidou’s Twombly retrospective. This drawing is both a reflection of Twombly’s gestural freedom of Abstract Expressionism and his fascination with Italian history and ancient mythology, making it an important work in the course of the artist’s oeuvre.