The Tate has received a treasure trove of work by Cy Twombly, dubbed a “giant of American art”, which the director said will rank alongside the Rothko paintings that are among the gallery’s biggest draws.
The gallery announced this morning that Twombly’s estate had made a gift of three large paintings, Untitled (Bacchus), and five bronze sculptures in line with the artist’s wishes. The works are valued at more than £50m.
Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, called it “one of the most generous gifts ever to Tate by an artist or a foundation”, adding it was “like having late Turner works” donated. “This gives an enduring place in London to the work of one of the greatest painters of the second half of the 20 century.”
He said it ranked alongside Rothko’s gift of the Seagram mural paintings in 1969, which are among Tate Modern’s biggest draws.
“In 20 years’ time seeing these paintings will have the same impact as going into the Rothko rooms,” Sir Nicholas said, adding the display will help boost the public’s awareness of Twombly’s work.
The US artist had been the focus of a major retrospective, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, at Tate Modern in 2008.
The Roman god Bacchus is a recurring theme in his work and in 2005 he created eight paintings in vermilion on the theme of ecstasy and insanity of the god of wine. The paintings were made with a brush fixed to the end of a pole.
He saw three of his those paintings, held in private hands, displayed together at the Tate retrospective and said: “I wish we could keep them together.” This prompted him to paint three more, and these are the works that have been given to Tate.
The institution owns an earlier cycle of four Twombly paintings, bought in 2002, called The Four Seasons. The artist, who lived and worked in Italy for many years, died in 2011 at the age of 83.
The Tate director said Twombly’s decision to give the works came from his admiration for Tate “and his sympathy for the work of Turner” adding: “What’s remarkable about him is the modern expression dealing with ancient themes. These are the themes Turner would have recognised.
“A whole lot of factors came together. He was very keen to have them in London. Clearly it’s a museum that gets a lot of visitors, and it will be one of the places in the world to see Twombly’s work.”
The works are on display at Tate Modern, and the director said plans are afoot to send them round the country to the other Tate sites as well as lend them out to other institutions in the coming years.