Cy Twombly

Biography of Cy Twombly

Widely-regarded as one of the standout American painters of the modern age, Cy Twombly’s artwork has a worldwide following, and is distinct from that of many of his contemporaries for its lyrical and poetic classicism. Intellectual and learned, his engagement with European high-culture formed a thrilling combination of traditional European ideas with a more brusque American painting style.


Born in 1928 in Virginia, Cy Twombly’s interest in art at a young age was encouraged by his parents, and at the age of 12 he studied under the Spanish painter Pierre Daura. After a spell at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, he took up a position in 1950 at the Art Students League where he became increasingly drawn to the abstraction of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg. Meeting contemporary Robert Rauschenberg, they moved together to the radical Black Mountain College in North Carolina.


After graduating Cy Twombly and Rauschenberg, alongside their friend Jasper Johns, took up residence in New York and became known as the Neo-dadaists. Having travelled in Europe, Twombly was keen to return to Rome where he met and married Italian artist Baroness Tatiana Franchetti in 1959. Greatly influenced by classical culture and literature, his flowing use of paint was reminiscent of the Abstract Expressionists but without the heroic pretentions. Using forms from everyday life, he would bring in found objects into his work.


Much of Cy Twombly’s more abstract art was based on language and the process of writing, and he would often write narratives that lurked just beneath the surface elements of his paintings. Although he shied away from the limelight, his merging of high-art with low art practices is immensely influential and he is regarded as one of the best artists to come to the fore after Abstract Expressionists. In 2014 an untitled painting from 1970 sold at Christie’s auction house for $69.6 million. He died in 2011 in Rome having suffered from cancer for a few years prior to his death.  


Cy Twombly exhibited his work regularly at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1964, 1989 and in 2001 where he was awarded the Golden Lion. Perhaps most prestigiously he was only the third artist to ever be invited by the Louvre in Paris to do a site specific painting in the Salle des Bronzes in 2007. The French government in 2010 made him Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur. In 2016 the Centre Pompidou in Paris put on a retrospective of his work. Many of his works can be seen in all major collections worldwide, most significantly at Tate Modern in London and in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York. 

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