Published  02/02/2003

New acquisition: Quattro Stagioni by Cy Twombly, Tate Modern, London

New acquisition: Quattro Stagioni by Cy Twombly, Tate Modern, London

American artist Cy Twombly has four tall canvases on exhibition at the Tate Modern. 'Quattro Stagioni' (Four Seasons), a painting in four parts, was executed during the period 1993-94. The Edinburgh exhibition was the first solo exhibition in Scotland. The paintings currently on display at Tate Modern, coming so soon after the Barnett Newman retrospective, illustrate how very different Twombly's oeuvre is from the mainstream of American Abstract art. Twombly's 'Quattro Stagioni' shows that, through an abstract language, the artist is able to convey tender, amusing, mournful sentiments. They are at once expressive of a wide range of emotions. Words are written loosely on the canvas - a form of civilised graffiti.

The purchase of 'Quattro Stagioni' was made possible by the American fund for the Tate Gallery. Like many artists, composers and poets who have written about the seasons, or painted images of the passing of time, there is here a celebration of ephemeral beauty, lost love. Twombly's canvases convey a mood of decline and loss. The autumn panel is the most relaxed. The artist attributes his inspiration for this and subsequent panels to the wine harvest at Bassano in Teverina, a village north of Rome. Twombly's 'Spring' is erotic and passionate, the words on the canvas resemble a love letter. There are, in Twombly's paintings, connotations that go beyond the seasons; references are made to war, European myth, history, doomed desire. Twombly has been described as the least American of the great American artists - due in large part to the fact that he has lived, since 1957, in Rome. Had he stayed in America, he would certainly have benefited from the climate there, which supported Abstract Expressionist art. The words on Twombly's canvases are a spontaneous and poetic response to his interest in myth and the history of art. They are a fluid and sensual response, not just to personal experience, but to the work of previous artists, to a society at odds with poetry and philosophy. They are a splendid new treasure for the Tate Gallery.

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