NARRATOR: An area of dark, drippy smudges anchors the bottom left of this canvas. From there, graphite scrawls and swooping white lines carry your eye on a diagonal upward to the right. More concentrated scribbles and dabs of pink and red paint at the center give way to the quiet, nearly empty space at the top right corner. Cy Twombly masterfully builds a composition from gestural marks.

Twombly often buries words within the layers of paint—fragments from ancient mythology, romantic poetry, and classical literature. At the top left of this canvas you can make out the phrase “a shadow of the dream,” which appears in the writings of both Shakespeare and John Keats. Just as the words are barely legible, their meaning remains out of grasp. 

Twombly began this painting in 1964, returning to complete it twenty years later. The canvas reveals how his style changed over that time. The violent marks of the lower left give way layers of ethereal white paint, characteristic of his softer later style.

Twombly, who lived in Rome for many years, once explained that his densely layered images “evolved out of...a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time.”


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