Exhibition banner for Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

In 1976, Twombly returned to sculpture for the first time in seventeen years. Like his earlier works, these pieces are assembled from found materials such as pieces of wood or packaging, or cast in bronze and covered in white paint and plaster. Their elegant simplicity often suggests archaeological treasures or funerary relics, belying their humble origins.

Untitled 1976 was the first of several classical columns constructed from objects such as cardboard tubes used for protecting rolled drawings, while for Untitled (1978) Twombly created an altar from a discarded box.

The title of Orpheus (Du Unendliche Spur) means ‘You endless trace’, and is taken from the Sonnets to Orpheus by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Fragments from these poems and the name of the legendary musician have been inscribed onto an altar upon which a wooden lath rises in an elegant and graceful curve suggesting a lyre.

Twombly’s first boat sculpture, Aurora, is named after a battleship that played a vital role during the Russian Revolution. Set atop a long and narrow rectangular wooden plinth, crudely punctured by nails and thinly veiled in a shroud of white paint, are a box-like hull, a thin and fragile mast and wire rigging hammered in with a nail. A plastic rose projecting from the bow provides a figurehead.