Visual Descriptions

Cy Twombly. Leda and the Swan. Rome 1962 76

Oil, pencil, and crayon on canvas, 6' 3" x 6' 6 3/4" (190.5 x 200 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection (both by exchange). © 2019 Cy Twombly Foundation

Narrator 1: 7–6. Leda and the Swan. Painted in 1962 by the American artist Cy Twombly, born 1928. The artist has lived in Rome since 1957. Oil, pencil, and crayon on canvas. Six foot 3 inches by 6 foot 7 inches. 190 by 200 centimeters.

Narrator 2: A large, almost square, painting sits within a simple white frame behind glass. The canvas has been primed a grayish white. But these simple squares of frame and canvas contain a turbulent explosion of abstraction. It churns out from the center of the canvas, extending beyond its edges and threatening to engulf the gallery in frenzied scribbled crayon.

This overall effect is created with a dense and roughly circular mass of dark swirling lines. Layers of crayon, pencil, and paint. They call to the imagination the hand of the artist, firmly pressing pencil and crayon to the canvas, laying down long continuous trails of looping and zig–zagging lines. The base coat of gray paint is visible throughout the canvas, but the lines are densest in the center and slightly to the right of center, and become sparser toward the canvas’s edges. The corners are not devoid of marking, but much of the white base coat is visible there.

Within this mass of scribbled lines, are relatively sparse bits of color: red, pink, white, and yellowish–brown. They are oil paint, seemingly applied violently with brushes and directly from the tubes of paint. Smears, scrawls, swirls and scribbles. Blobs of paint stick out from the surface of the canvas. There are also lines, shadings and a few roughly formed images.

For example, in the upper right of the painting, almost at the top edge is a rectangle drawn in pencil. It’s about six inches tall and four inches wide. It’s divided into fourths, like the panes of a window, drawn by a child. Beneath it, and further to the right are quickly outlined heart shapes. In the center is a deep red outline in oil paint – a crude graffiti–like phallus.

Many of the scribbled lines look as though they might be written words. But only at the lower right edge of the canvas is anything truly legible. The title of the work, Leda and the Swan, is written there in black script, but the word “Swan” is scratched out.

Narrator 1: To hear the Collection Tour audio on this work, press 4–1–9.