“A great American painter who deeply loved old Europe has just left us,” French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said in a statement. “His work was deeply marked by his passion for Greek and Roman antiquity, and its mythology, which for him was a source of bottomless inspiration.”
For that work he chose something simple: a deep blue background punctuated with floating disks and emblazoned with the names of sculptors from ancient Greece, apt for a gallery of bronzes.
“I got into something new in old age,” he said of his choice of color, which was unusual.
The Lexington, Virginia-born artist said he was inspired by the colors he found in a Chinese print as well the blue of early Italian Renaissance artist Giotto, who used paint made from lapis lazuli.
“I was just thinking of the blue with the disks on it, it’s totally abstract … I put all the great Greek sculptors’ names on the top. It’s that simple,” Twombly told The Associated Press at the time.
Simple or not, his work fetched millions at auction: In 2002, an untitled Twombly painting set an auction record for the artist at Sothebys, fetching ?5.6 million. Before that, a 1990 Christies auction set a record for Twombly, with his 1971 untitled blackboard painting fetching $5.5 million.
“In painting, drawings and sculpture, Cy Twombly constantly held himself apart from the great conflicts that would upset the artistic scene of the 20th century,” Mitterrand said.
Mezil, the Avignon gallery director, said his show there was “the most beautiful exhibit before his death.”
Twombly, who had a gallery in his name at the Menil Collection museum in Houston, Texas, won a series of awards, including a knight in the Legion of Honor bestowed at the inauguration of the Louvre ceiling.
He won Japan’s highest and most prestigious art award in 1998, the Praemium Imperiale prize which honors those not covered by the Nobels.
In 2001 he snapped up the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Bienniale.
In 2007, a woman was arrested in France for kissing an all-white canvas he painted, worth about $2 million. Restorers had trouble getting the lipstick off.