Exhibition banner for Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

In the summer and early autumn of 1969, Twombly made a series of fourteen paintings while staying at Bolsena, a lake to the north of Rome. With their cool overlays of white paint on a cream ground, tumbling forms, and calculations and numbers scribbled out like incorrect sums, the Bolsena works are quite unlike anything that preceded them. They are also a rare example of Twombly responding to contemporary events: the measurements, graphs and diagrammatic drawings reflect his preoccupation with the Apollo 11 space flight, which culminated with Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon on 20 July 1969.

Like much of Twombly’s work, the series contains within it a struggle between diametrically opposing forces. A tension between left and right, horizontal and vertical, movement and stasis, and rising or falling is palpable in these paintings.