Exhibition banner for Cy Twombly at Tate Modern

From the early 1980s onwards, Twombly spent increasing amounts of time in Gaeta, a medieval port town between Naples and Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea. His work from that decade displays an ever-deepening fascination with water.

Hero and Leandro is based on a classical legend of doomed love. Leandro (Leander in English) drowned while swimming across the Hellespont to meet his lover Hero, who then threw herself into the sea. Twombly evokes the tragic tale through waves of brushstrokes, which cascade across the canvases. The drowning of Leandro is at the beginning of the sequence, followed by the wake, which unfolds from left to right. The final part includes a quotation from Keats’s sonnet On a Leander Gem.

The two Wilder Shores of Love paintings are named after a book by Lesley Blanch about the travels of four nineteenth-century women in North Africa and the Near East. Here, a division between water, land and sky is implied, with the title scrolling across the canvas in red paint stick and floating above cascading green paint.

This room also includes three of Twombly’s ‘boat’ sculptures from the mid-1980s, notably Winter’s Passage: Luxor, which resembles an Egyptian funerary relic intended to transport the souls of the dead.