Cy Twombly
Proem, 1983

  • Cy Twombly (Lexington/VA, 1928 - Rome, 2011)
  • Proem, 1983
  • Oil, crayon and pencil on paper, 100 x 70 cm
  • Alain and Suzanne Dubois Collection. Promised gift
  • © Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne

Cy Twombly’s work draws on a deep well of scholarship. The artist displayed boundless intellectual curiosity from a very young age. In 1952 he travelled across Europe and North Africa with Robert Rauschenberg. He visited Rome and came back to live there five years later, but regularly returned to the United States. His paintings and drawings are influenced by contemporary abstract expressionism, although he was a marginal figure in the movement: while he eschewed figurative art like other artists in the same school, he did introduce depth of field into his works.

Proem results from the same creative force and makes use of the same visual language as much of Twombly’s work: eruptive intensity, marks that seem to mimic writing, and interference between drawn elements and verbal fragments. Each work offers a synthesis of the artist’s own memory, knowledge, and experiences, transformed into emotional energy.

This drawing was produced in Rome. The date, 23 November 1983, and the title, taken from an 1847 poem by John Greenleaf Whittier that is a vibrant ode to nature, float over the centre of the sheet. The information, presumably added at the end of the creative process, are rare instances of explicit detail in Twombly’s oeuvre, while also forming part of the work itself. The way they are written suggests they emanate as much from the cloud above which they hover as from the background spattered with words, for instance ‘F O R M I A N  D R E A M S’, that are largely illegible, having been covered with white oil paint. The composition thus feels balanced between the pared-down upper part and the dense, frenetic lower part. Twombly organises controlled chaos that can also be seen in the black and brown lines that run off to the right, smudged by the brush.


Nicola Del Roscio, Cy Twombly Drawings. Cat. Rais. Vol. 7 1980-1989, Munich, Schirmer/Mosel, 2016: n. 168.

Jonas Storsve (ed.), Cy Twombly, cat. exp. Paris, Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, Paris, Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2016.

Démosthènes Davvetas, Écriture poétique & langage plastique. Cy Twombly, vol. 3, Paris, Au Même Titre éditions, 2000: 40.