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"Natural History Part I Mushrooms: No. VII," 1974 by Cy Twombly

Updated: May 28, 2018

Natural History Part I Mushrooms: No. VII, 1974; Lithograph, collotype in colors, collage, and hand-coloring on Rives Couronne paper; Numbered 94/98 and initialed C T in pencil lower right; Printer, © 1974, and VII stamps lower left; Published by Propyläen Verlag, Berlin; Catalog Raisonne: Bastian 48; Size - Sheet 30 x 22", Frame 38 x 30"; Framed floated with an acid free mat, cream wood exterior frame, and plexiglass.

"Each line is now the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate - it is the sensation of its own realization." - Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was an American painter, sculptor, photographer, and print maker. He is most known for his large scale paintings that depict calligraphic, scribbled, and graffiti-like compositions that are set on a grey, tan, or off-white field. His works are in every major museum in the world with numerous works in the Tate Modern, Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim, and housed and shown in a separate building as part of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. Twombly was also commissioned to paint the ceiling in a room in the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France. His most expensive painting at auction was "Untitled (New York City)," 1968 which sold for $70.5 million at Sotheby's in 2015.

Twombly's artistic style began to emerge in the mid 1950's. He was influenced by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, with whom he shared a studio. Twombly was to develop a simplified form of abstraction that was influenced by tribal art, that immediately lead to the invocation of primitivism. He developed a technique of gestural drawing, characterized by thin white lines on a dark ground. This contrast and painting technique lead to the appearance that the lines had been scratched onto the surface of the canvas. Once he moved to Gaeta in Southern Italy, he began to integrate classical source material into his compositions. Soon, erotic and corporeal symbols were utilized, as well as a greater move towards lyricism. In the mid 1970's there was a shift, and he began to incorporate color into his works; particularly brown, green, and light blue. There was also an increase in inscriptions and collage elements; as well as inspiration being drawn from historical events, literature, and mythology. The rough utilization of the source material, combined in unique and primitive (ritual and fetish elements) ways, evoked the memory of those events without an overt need for elaborate illustration.

"Natural History Part I Mushrooms: No. VII," 1974 is an exceptional work by Cy Twombly. The work has as it's subject various mushroom images that are scattered about the sheet and overlaid by Twombly's scribbles, scrawls, and smudges. There is a scientific artistic commentary conveyed by the use of diagrams, graph paper, numbers, charts, and binomial nomenclature of genus and species names typed alongside botanical illustrations from an unknown specimen book. The stacked placement of images suggest a draftsman level of design, with the intentional creation of depth. The application of forms, in combination with the immediacy of the drawing, seems planned but executed quickly. The exact reason and meaning of the composition is deliberately obscured for the viewer, but there are strong phallic, corporeal, and mortality references in the imagery that are layered on and around a pseudoscientific array of connections. It is clear that the mushrooms serve as a jumping-off point to a deeper understanding of Natural History. "My line is childlike but not childish, Twombly said. "It is very difficult to fake... to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child's line. It has to be felt." This is a wonderful example of Cy Twombly at his best and a great addition to any twentieth century art collection!

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