Cy Twombly, one of the 20th century’s great lyrical artists, died yesterday in Rome. The cause was not immediately disclosed, but he had suffered from cancer. He was 83.

He was the odd man out in a triumvirate of three friends from the American South – including Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg – who built great reputations in the art world.

Unlike Johns and Rauschenberg, bridging figures between Abstract Expressionism and the Pop Art and Minimalism of the 1960s, Mr. Twombly achieved great fame only in his later years.

This was in part because he removed himself from the New York art world in 1957 and went to live in Rome. It was also because his work – paintings, sculptures, and photographs – had a romantic, at times nakedly erotic quality that left many critics struggling to know how to discuss him.

Mr. Twombly’s canvases are typically huge, with large areas often left unmarked. They are punctuated with scribbles, smudges, mathematical symbols, fragments of poetry, references to classical antiquity, obscene doodles, and – increasingly in his later years – vigorous blotches and drips of bright paint.


Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe