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Cy Twombly was born on April 25, 1928, in Lexington, Virginia. From 1948 to 1951 he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Lee University in Lexington, and the Art Students League in New York, where he met Robert Rauschenberg. At Rauschenberg’s encouragement, he attended Black Mountain College, near Asheville, North Carolina, in 1951 and 1952, where he studied under Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Ben Shahn. The Kootz Gallery in New York presented Twombly’s first solo exhibition in 1951. At this time his work was influenced by Kline’s black and white gestural expressionism, as well as by Paul Klee’s childish and playful imagery.
In 1952 Twombly received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that enabled him to travel to North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France. Upon his return in 1953, he served in the U.S. Army as a cryptologist. From 1955 to 1959 he worked in New York and Italy, eventually settling in Rome. It was during this period that he began to create his first abstract sculptures, which, although varied in shape and material, were always coated with white paint. In Italy he began to work on a larger scale and distanced himself from his former expressionist scribbles, moving toward a more literal use of text and numbers and drawing inspiration from poetry, mythology, and classical history. He subsequently created a vocabulary of various signs and marks, sometimes sexually charged, that read on a metaphorical level rather than referring to any form of traditional iconography.
Twombly was invited to exhibit his work at the Venice Biennale in 1964. In 1968 the Milwaukee Art Center mounted the first retrospective of his work. Major retrospectives were organized by the Kunsthaus Zürich, in 1987; the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, in 1988; the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1994; the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, in 2006; the Tate Modern in London, in 2008; and the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. In 1995 the Cy Twombly Gallery opened in Houston, exhibiting works made by the artist since 1954. Twombly died in Rome on July 5, 2011.