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Modern artist Cy Twombly dies in Rome

Modern artist Cy Twombly, whose large-scale, graffiti-inspired paintings helped invigorate the American post-war art scene, has died.
Cy Twombly is seen in March 2010 at the Louvre museum in Paris, where he unveiled a permanent work painted on one of the gallery's ceilings. The celebrated American artist has died at age 83. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

Modern artist Cy Twombly, whose large-scale, graffiti-inspired paintings helped invigorate the American post-war art scene alongside the works of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, has died.

The 83-year-old Twombly died Tuesday after having suffered from cancer for some time, according to Virginia Coleman, a spokeswoman for the Gagosian Gallery, which represented him.

He died in hospital in Rome, said Eric Mezil, director of southern France's Lambert Collection, where an exhibit of Twombly's photos opened in June.

Twombly moved from the U.S. to Italy in the late 1950s and had been living in the central Italian city of Gaeta.

"A great American painter who deeply loved old Europe has just left us," French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand said in a statement.

"His work was deeply marked by his passion for Greek and Roman antiquity, and its mythology, which for him was a source of bottomless inspiration."

Born Edwin Parker Twombly Jr. in Lexington, Va., the artist eventually took on his father's nickname, Cy. He studied art at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Washington and Lee University in Lexington before joining the famed Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

Though conscripted and trained as a U.S. Army cryptographer in 1954, Twombly shot to fame in the mid-1950s alongside artistic peers like Johns and his Black Mountain College schoolmate Rauschenberg.

Earlier on, his interpretation of the abstract expressionist style produced distinctive "scribble" pieces that blurred the line between painting and drawing, combining letters, words, scrawling lines and graffiti.

Often marked by complex layers packed with myriad details — paint drips, scrawled bits of verse, scratches, erased portions, washes of colour and swooping lines — his artistic output has also extended to photography, sculpture and collage installations created from found objects.

Move to Italy

After having travelled extensively with Rauschenberg in the early 1950s, Twombly decided to make a permanent move in 1957. He settled in Italy and married aristocrat and artist Tatiana Franchetti. The couple's son, Cyrus Alessandro Twombly, has also become a painter.

Naturally, crossing the Atlantic had a major influence on Twombly's evolution as an artist, as his work began to reflect his love of poetry, fascination with classical mythology and literature, Mediterranean life and marked his interest in testing out brighter vivid colours and Italy's different light.

While some early critics in the 1960s and 1970s questioned his place among the post-war American artists, appreciation of Twombly has become established in recent decades. His works are now highly sought after by both institutions and collectors, fetching in the millions at auction.

Though Twombly has largely avoided publicity, his work has been exhibited worldwide, including in retrospectives at New York's Museum of Modern Art and at the U.K.'s Tate Modern. In 2010, he became the first American artist invited to create a permanent painted ceiling at France's iconic Louvre. His final product — in a room showcasing ancient Greek and Roman bronzes and artifacts — was a surprising wash of Mediterranean blues that incorporated pale spheres and the names of Greek sculptors.

In 1995, Houston's Menil Collection opened an art gallery expressly devoted to Twombly's work. The facility was designed by acclaimed Italian architect Renzo Piano, based on a plan by Twombly himself. Over the years, other accolades have included winning the Golden Lion Award at the 2001 Venice Biennale and being named to the French Legion of Honour.

Visitors examine a work by American artist Cy Twombly at the Mumok museum in Vienna in 2009. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)

With files from The Associated Press