It coincides with the retrospective “Cy Twombly” opening at Centre Pompidou, Paris on November 30.
The selection of works, dating between 1968 and 1979, take as their subject the figure of Orpheus. Orpheus, the mythic archetype representing the artist and the creative process itself was also the subject of Sonnets to Orpheus, a cycle of fifty-five sonnets written by Rainer Maria Rilke in 1922, which were of great inspiration to Twombly. The works on show have never been brought together until now.
Orpheus’s lyrical skills were such that he was able to convince Hades, god of the underworld, to return his wife and muse, Eurydice. Hades’s one stipulation was that Orpheus not turn to look at Eurydice as he walked back toward the world of the living. But Orpheus could not resist and she was cast back forever. Later, he would be torn apart by Dionysian maenads.
The myth of Orpheus also inspired French composer Pierre Henry’s The Veil of Orpheus, a 1953 composition of musique concrète. In his recording, Henry tore cloth to mark the moment when Orpheus lost Eurydice for the second time. The sound of the tearing cloth, symbolizing the rent between life and death, is transformed by Twombly into a painting of epic scale bearing the same title.
Rilke wrote of artists as links between the past, present, and future. In urgent gestures, Twombly was able to evoke centuries of historical record and artistic endeavor. In The Veil of Orpheus (1968), he traced wax crayon lines over panels of painted canvas, creating what he referred to as “a time line without time.” In the painting Orpheus (1979), he inscribed the name of Orpheus in the Cyrillic alphabet in an allusion to his eventual dismemberment. In his rendering of the Western myth, Twombly traces “a two-way movement: infinity and forgetfulness; destruction and transcendence; ascent and descent.” (Mary Jacobus, Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint).