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£50 Million Gift of Cy Twombly Paintings and Sculpture to the Tate

June 12, 2014
Director of the Tate Sir Nicholas Serota in front of 'Untitled (Bacchus) 2006-2008, Acrylic on canvas' by Cy Twombly Photo: Justin Tallis/PA

Director of the Tate Sir Nicholas Serota in front of ‘Untitled (Bacchus) 2006-2008, Acrylic on canvas’ by Cy Twombly Photo: Justin Tallis/PA

The Tate Modern in London today announced a major gift from the estate of Cy Twombly – three paintings created between 2006-2008 from the remarkable Bacchus series and five bronze sculptures.  The Telegraph claims the donation is worth 50 million.

According to the museum’s press release, Tate director Sir Nicholas said: “This is one of the most generous gifts ever to Tate by an artist or a foundation. It ranks alongside Rothko’s gift of the Seagram mural paintings in 1969 and together with Twombly’s cycle of paintings The Four Seasons 1993-5, acquired in 2002, this gives an enduring place inLondon to the work of one of the great painters of the second half of the twentieth century. I would also like to thank Nicola Del Roscio, President and Julie Sylvester, Vice-President of the Cy Twombly Foundation in realising Cy’s wishes.”

Installation view of Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

Installation view of Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

The Bacchus series paintings, featuring great blood red loops on tan backgrounds, began in 2005 and the first eight paintings were first shown later that year at the Gagosian Gallery on New York’s Madison Avenue (and there is an excellent catalogue). It remains one of the most remarkable and memorable exhibitions I have ever seen.

The New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith called the exhibition a “visual tsunami.” She added, “Waves of pure, red-hot red, almost visible before you see the canvasses, engulf the eye from all sides.” Smith concluded: “These amazing, angry, joyful, enveloping surfaces are in the tradition of the aging artist letting it rip.”  Yves-Alain Bois, writing in Artforumobserved: “We immediately intuit that the huge span of the loops involved the whole body, an athleticism unprecedented in Twombly’s entire career and, for that matter, rarely seen in the history of twentieth-century art.”

Installation view of Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

Installation view of Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

According to the Tate announcement:

The Roman god Bacchus is a recurring theme in Twombly’s work. In summer 2005, he returned to the Iliad for inspiration to create a cycle of eight paintings in vermilion colour on the theme of the ecstasy and insanity of the Roman god. Red is the colour of wine and also of blood and the three canvases encompass both the sensual pleasure and violent debauchery associated with the god. The unfurling scrolls of the paintings were made, like Matisse’s large drawings for the chapel at Vence, with a brush affixed to the end of a pole, which accounts for their vitality and scale. The three late paintings extend Twombly’s series of Bacchus paintings from 2005 and were begun on canvases dating from that first campaign of painting.

The five sculptures are all bronze casts of Twombly’s assemblages of found objects and detritus, such as the top of an olive barrel, which forms one of the works, Rotalla. Through simple elements Twombly evokes classical artefacts, such as chariots and ships, while their casting in bronze lends otherwise ephemeral objects the permanence of ancient sculpture.

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