MoMA
Cy Twombly. Leda and the Swan. Rome 1962
Cy Twombly

Leda and the Swan

Rome 1962
Not on view
Medium
Oil, pencil, and crayon on canvas
Dimensions
6' 3" x 6' 6 3/4" (190.5 x 200 cm)
Credit
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection (both by exchange)
Object number
612.1994
Copyright
© 2015 Cy Twombly Foundation

Rome, Twombly's home since the 1950s, has nurtured his fascination with classical antiquity. In this work he refers to the Roman myth in which Jupiter, lord of the gods, takes the shape of a swan in order to ravish Leda, the beautiful mother of Helen (over whom the Trojan war would be fought). Twombly's version of this old art-historical theme supplies no contrast of feathers and flesh but a fusion of violent energies in furiously thrashing overlays of crayon, pencil, and ruddy paint. A few recognizable signs—hearts, a phallus—fly out from this explosion, in stark contrast to the sober windowlike rectangle near the top of the painting.

Gallery label from 2007
Additional text

Interest in the mural form was widespread among the Abstract Expressionists, who often worked on a scale far larger than that of most easel paintings. Twombly, a member of a younger generation, transposed that interest in the wall into a different register: no painter of his time more consistently invites association with the language of graffiti. His scrawled calligraphic markings may recall the automatic writing of Surrealism, another inheritance passed on to him through Abstract Expressionism, but they also evoke the scratches and scribbles on the ancient walls of Rome (his home since 1957).

Rome supplies another touchstone for Twombly through his fascination with classical antiquity. Here he refers to the myth in which Jupiter, lord of the gods, took the shape of a swan in order to ravish the beautiful Leda. (This violation ultimately led to the Trojan War, fought over Leda's daughter Helen.) Twombly's version of this old art-historical theme supplies no contrasts of feathers and flesh but an orgiastic fusion and confusion of energies within furiously thrashing overlays of crayon, pencil, and ruddy paint. A few recognizable signs—hearts, a phallus—fly out from this explosion. A drier comment is the quartered, windowlike rectangle near the top of the painting, an indication of the stabilizing direction that Twombly's art was starting to take.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 280
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Related links:
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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource