Arcadian Painters becomes fitting tribute to Cy Twombly by uniting works with Nicholas Poussin

By Culture24 Staff | 08 July 2011
An image of an abstract painting in white and red
Cy Twombly, Hero and Leander (To Christopher Marlowe) (1985)
Exhibition: Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, until September 25 2011

From his first forays into art under the tutorship of an exiled Spanish artist who had learnt from Pablo Picasso to his New York debut more than 50 years ago and a National Order of the Legion of Honour from the French government, Edwin Parker "Cy" Twombly was reverential among a generation of artists.

Dulwich’s delicate double act, positioning Twombly’s freewheeling abstraction against the classical figurative paintings of Nicholas Poussin, the 17th century French painter he loved, was cloaked in sadness when his death in Rome at the age of 83 was announced this week.

As time soothes the sorrow, the exhibition should be seen as a bittersweet celebration of an artist who changed perceptions forever.

An image of a classic painting of biblical figures in a pastoral setting
Nicolas Poussin, Rinaldo and Armida (circa 1630)© By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery
“The passing of Cy Twombly is a loss not just for art, but for humanity,” said a statement from the Gagosian Gallery, who represented the artist.

“Cy was a truly great man, as well as a great painter, sculptor, draftsman and photographer. The power of his art lay not just in its extraordinary and haunting beauty, but in its ability to connect us to those archetypal forces which have driven mankind since classical times and before.”

This separation of centuries also speaks of the divide between Twombly and Poussin.

“I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time,” said the later artist, and the kitchen-sink vivacity of his works – where passages from poems swirl and flowers erupt into thickly-painted bloom – frequently references Poussin’s exquisite brand of romanticism.

The connections between the pair are formed by key themes of Arcadia, Venus and Eros, mythological figures and a sense of anxiety and theatricality in this show.

Tacita Dean’s new 16mm film portrait of Twombly, Edwin Parker, bristles with prescience, showing the artist in his studio in Lexington, and pursuing the inner world of his imagination through the looking glass of his physical demeanour and surroundings.

Her task is not an easy one given that the artist rarely discussed his methods. “It’s more like I’m having an experience than making a picture,” he is famously quoted as saying.

The testimonies which have poured in from his contemporaries demonstrate that Twombly’s were journeys which always took his audience along for the ride. “His art was intimate, personal, touchingly humble and true to himself,” the gallery added, calling his legacy “humanist, grandly ambitious and always heroic.”

“His passing is the end of an era.”

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