Edwin Parker "Cy" Twombly, Jr. (1928, Lexington City, Virginia, United States – 2011, Rome , Italy) was an American artist well known for his large-scale, freely scribbled, calligraphic-style graffiti paintings, on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors. He exhibited his paintings worldwide.
Twombly's paintings blur the line between drawing and painting. Many of his best-known paintings of the late 1960s are reminiscent of a school blackboard on which someone has practiced cursive "e"s. Twombly had at this point discarded painting figurative, representational subject-matter, citing the line or smudge – each mark with its own history – as its proper subject. Later, many of his paintings and works on paper moved into "romantic symbolism", and their titles can be interpreted visually through shapes and forms and words.
Twombly often quoted the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as many classical myths and allegories in his works. Examples of this are his Apollo and The Artist and a series of eight drawings consisting solely of inscriptions of the word "VIRGIL". In a 1994 retrospective, curator Kirk Varnedoe described Twombly's work as “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.” After acquiring Twombly's Three Studies from the Temeraire (1998–99), the Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales said "sometimes people need a little bit of help in recognising a great work of art that might be a bit unfamiliar". He is said to have influenced younger artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Francesco Clemente, and Julian Schnabel.
Twombly was born in Lexington, Virginia, on April 25, 1928. Twombly's father, also nicknamed "Cy", pitched for the Chicago White Sox. They were both nicknamed after the baseball great Cy Young who pitched for among others the Cardinals, Red Sox, Indians, and Braves. At age 12, he began to take private art lessons with the Spanish modern master Pierre Daura.He served as a cryptographer in the U.S. army. After graduating from Lexington High School in 1946, Twombly attended Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1948–49), and at Washington and Lee University (1949–50) in Lexington, Virginia. On a tuition scholarship from 1950 to 1951, he studied at the Art Students League of New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg, who encouraged him to attend Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. At Black Mountain in 1951 and 1952 he studied with Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Ben Shahn, and met John Cage. Arranged by Motherwell, the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in New York organized Twombly's first solo exhibition in 1951. At this time his work was influenced by Kline's black-and-white gestural expressionism, as well as Paul Klee's imagery.
In 1952, Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France. Between 1954 and 1956, he taught at the Southern Seminary and Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia. In 1957, Twombly moved to Rome, where he met the Italian artist Baroness Tatiana Franchetti – sister of his patron Baron Giorgio Franchetti. They were married at City Hall in New York in 1959 and then bought a palazzo on the Via di Monserrato in Rome. Later on, they preferred to dwell in Gaeta near Rome.
In 1968, the Milwaukee Art Center mounted his first retrospective. This was followed by major retrospectives at the Kunsthaus Zürich (1987) travelling to Madrid, London and Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1994) (travelling to Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin) and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich (2006). In 1995, the Cy Twombly Gallery opened at The Menil Collection, Houston, exhibiting works made by the artist since 1954. The European retrospective "Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons" opened at the Tate Modern, London in June 2008, with subsequent versions at the Guggenheim Bilbao and the Museum of Modern Art in Rome in 2009. Recent exhibitions include "Cy Twombly: The Natural World, Selected Works 2000-2007," The Art Institute of Chicago (2009) and "Sensations of the Moment," the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, (2009). In 2010, Twombly’s permanent site-specific painting, Ceiling was unveiled in the Salle des Bronzes at the Musée du Louvre. At the same time he was made Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by the French government.
In 2011, Twombly died in Rome after being hospitalized for several days; he had had cancer for many years. He has a son, Cyrus Alessandro Twombly, who is also a painter and lives in Rome.