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Cy Twombly '53 and The Louvre

Washington and Lee alumnus (Class of 1953) and Lexington native Cy Twombly has become only the third contemporary artist selected to create a permanent work for the Louvre. His contribution is a painted ceiling for the Salle des Bronzes, and he is the first artist given the honor of decorating a Louvre ceiling since Georges Braque in the 1950s.

The press release from the Louvre describes it as “a work of monumental proportions, covering more than 350 square meters, its colossal size ably served by the painter’s breathtaking and unprecedented vision. Twombly’s two best-known trademarks are perhaps the incorporation of passionately scrawled words into his paintings and the energetic use of splashes or drips of vivid colors. In this work, Twombly leaves behind such romantic expressiveness. Here instead, the visitor discovers an immense blue sky, enlivened by the movements of spheres and punctuated by white insets inscribed with the names of the leading Greek sculptors active in the 4th century: Cephisodotus, Lysippus, Myron, Phidias, Polyclitus, Praxiteles and Scopas. Twombly’s aim was to create a work perfectly in harmony with the architecture and purpose of the space, this huge rectangular gallery housing the Louvre’s collection of Classical bronzes. Thus the round shapes can be interpreted as shields, planets, or coins, while the blue background evokes either the sky or the sea.”

Asked about his uncharacteristic use of blue, Cy, who will be 82 next month, told  The Associated Press, “I got into something new in old age.” He is the son of Edwin Parker “Cy” Twombly Sr., a member of the W&L Athletic Hall of Fame as coach of the swimming and golf teams.

Twombly further told AP, “I was just thinking of the blue with the disks on it, it’s totally abstract … I put all the great Greek sculptors’ names on the top. It’s that simple.” He also said he was inspired by the colors he found in a Chinese print as well the blue of early Italian Renaissance artist Giotto, who used paint made from lapis lazuli.

At the work’s inauguration on Tuesday, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand named Cy a knight in the Legion of Honor, saying the ceiling reminded him of “the sea, allied with the sun.”

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