Exhibition banner for Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

In 1971, Nini Pirandello, the wife of Twombly’s Roman gallerist Plinio De Martiis, died suddenly. In tribute, Twombly painted the elegiac Nini’s Paintings. The series seems to embody an absence impossible to articulate, with obsessive marks on the verge of recognisable words or figures that crumble and dissolve before our gaze. The calligraphic lines, frustration and failed articulation of Twombly’s paintings from the mid-1950s are combined with his restrained style of the late 1960s, to create an entirely new and distinct body of work, one that attests to the variation of patterns and series contained with Twombly’s own oeuvre.

The rippled and undulating lines, wave after wave, suggest the convulsive surface of water and recall Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches and writings on deluges, cataclysms and floods, which fascinated Twombly at the time.