A highly significant new acquisition of a group of four paintings by one of the greatest living painters, Cy Twombly, has been on display for the first time at Tate Modern from December 2002. Quattro Stagioni (A Painting in Four Parts) 1993-4 is shown as part of Tate Modern: Collection 2003. The works were purchased for the Tate Collection from General Funds with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery.
Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) is one of Twombly’s most important series of works. His strikingly individual style combines grafitto marks, scrawls and words, with stain-like patches of colour in loose compositions that celebrate the physical qualities of paint, crayon and pencil. The elements of the work appear to edge towards the limits of the canvas, threatening to disappear, and evoke the brevity of the seasons and of life. Painted words such as ‘Catullus’, the Roman Poet, allude to classical antiquity and continue American-born Twombly’s forty-year dialogue with European culture.
Cy Twombly was born on 25 April 1928 in Lexington, Virginia. After a three-year period of study in Lexington, Boston and at the Art Students League in New York, he spent the summer of 1951 at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he met the Abstract Expressionist painters Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. Motherwell inspired Twombly’s interest in calligraphy and the automatic drawing technique of the Surrealists. Twombly combined this with the expressive gestures of Jackson Pollock to create his highly recognisable graphic style.
From 1952 until he left to settle in Rome in 1957 Twombly shared a studio with Robert Rauschenberg in Manhattan. Works from this time reveal dispersed patches and stretches of pencil and crayon across acrylic or oil on canvas fields. Twombly’s move to Italy coincided with a shift away from Abstract Expressionism to a mature style inspired by poetry, mythology, the classics and European history and literature. He introduced rich colour and words which allude to classical themes into his works. By 1959 numbers had followed words into such images as View. Signatures were joined, at the start of the sixties, by pencilled titles and notations of the places and dates of the works’ completion.
In the mid-seventies Twombly probed the minutiae of the natural world in paintings and in the portfolios Natural History Part I: mushrooms 1974 and Natural History Part II: Some Trees of Italy 1975-76. The years 1977 and 1978 saw the creation of the ten-part cycle of paintings entitled Fifty Days at Iliam. In the eighties, the dualities of pastoral harmony and clamorous conflict are present in the wordless abstraction of such paintings as Untitled 1986. During the nineties Twombly remained devoted to themes from nature, in particular the four seasons and flowers.
Quattro Stagioni is shown alongside a group of five sculptures lent by the artist. Twombly’s sculptures are particularly inspired by a sense of place, and the chariot-like Untitled (Rome) 1979 is imbued with visual references to classical antiquity. The sculptures are constructed, for the most part, from found waste materials such as the barrel tops used to make Rotalla 1980, or the strips of wood tacked together in Winters Passage: Luxor 1985.
Tate Modern’s Landscape/Matter/Environment suite has been reinstalled to place this important acquisition at its centre and the rehang provides an opportunity to view Twombly’s work in relation to his antecedents in Europe and America. A new display of Tate’s Surrealist holdings focuses on landscape and metamorphosis, and a new display entitled Marks and Textures presents a selection of post-war European gestural works on paper. Twombly’s antecedents in the first generation of Abstract Expressionists are represented by a display entitled Nature into Action and by Mark Rothko’s Seagram murals.