Synopsis of a Battle (Primary Title)

Cy Twombly, American, 1928 - 2011 (Artist)

Commercial oil-based paint and wax crayon on canvas
United States
Overall: 79 × 103 1/8 in. (200.66 × 261.94 cm)

“What I am trying to establish is that Modern Art isn’t dislocated, but something with roots, tradition and continuity. For myself the past is the source (for all art is vitally contemporary).”—Cy Twombly (From the 1952 fellowship application to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

The vibrant, freewheeling compositions of Virginia-born Cy Twombly often allude to historical and mythological subjects. In Synopsis of a Battle, what appear to be random, chalklike scrawls on a slate gray blackboard are actually drawn and painted signs and symbols that refer to a specific event—the Battle of Issus (333 BC), in which Alexander the Great defeated Darius of Persia’s much larger army.

Among the work’s cryptic, graffiti-like markings, the words “Issus” (top left) and “flank” (left and right) provide clues to the painting’s military subject. The radiating, or flanking, form suggests diagrams of troop movements.

Twombly combines the energy of Abstract Expressionist gesture with the simplifying urges of Minimalism. The painting also reflects the inquiring attitude of Conceptual Art. Twombly is interested in language as both a visual form and a mental construct, here capable of bringing the past vitally into the present.

Gift of Sydney and Frances Lewis
Cy Twombly: Making Past Present, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, August 2 - October 30, 2022; MFA Boston, Boston, MA, January 14 - May 7, 2023

Individuals: A Selected History of Contemporary Art, 1945 - 1986, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, December 10, 1986 – January 10, 1988

William and Mary Collects, Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, October 1983 - January 1984

Cy Twombly Paintings and Drawings 1954 - 1977, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, April 6 – 30, 1979

20th Century Art from Friends Collections, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, July 27 – October 5, 1977

Contemporary Painting from the Lewis Collection, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE, September – October 27, 1974

Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA, October 3 – 28, 1973

American Painting 1970, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, May 4 – June 7, 1970

The Lewis Collection, Martha S. Grafton Library Gallery, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, VA, April 6 – 10, 1969
(Leo Castelli Gallery, New York) by 1969; Purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Sydney and Frances Lewis, Virginia in 1969; Gift to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), Richmond, Virginia in December of 1985.
©artist or artist’s estate

Some object records are not complete and do not reflect VMFA's full and current knowledge. VMFA makes routine updates as records are reviewed and enhanced.