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b. 1928, Lexington, Virginia; d. 2011, Rome
Cy Twombly was born Edwin Parker Twombly Jr. on April 25, 1928, in Lexington, Virginia. From 1948 to 1951, he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Washington and Lee University, Lexington; and Art Students League, New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg. At Rauschenberg’s encouragement, he attended Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, in 1951 and 1952, where he studied under Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Ben Shahn.
The Kootz Gallery, New York, organized his first solo exhibition in 1951. At this time, his work was influenced by Kline’s black-and-white gestural Abstract Expressionism as well as by Paul Klee’s childlike imagery. In 1952, Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, that enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France. On his return in 1953, he served in the army as a cryptologist. From 1955 to 1959, he worked in New York and Italy, finally settling in Rome. During this period he began to create his first abstract sculptures, which, although varied in shape and material, were always coated with white paint. In Italy, he began to work on a larger scale and distanced himself from his former Expressionist scribbles, moving toward a more literal use of text and numbers, drawing inspiration from poetry, mythology, and classical history. He subsequently created a vocabulary of various signs and marks, sometimes sexually charged, that read metaphorically rather than according to any form of traditional iconography.
Twombly was invited to exhibit his work at the 1964 Venice Biennale. In 1968, the Milwaukee Art Center mounted his first retrospective. The artist was honored with numerous other shows, including major retrospectives organized by Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich (1987); Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris (1988); Museum of Modern Art, New York (1994); Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2006); Tate Modern, London (2008); and Art Institute of Chicago (2009). In 1995, the Cy Twombly Gallery, exhibiting works made by the artist after 1954, opened in Houston. Twombly died on July 5, 2011, in Rome.