Lust, heartbreak and suggestive sculpture: was this art’s greatest love triangle?

Lust, heartbreak and suggestive sculpture: was this art’s greatest love triangle?

February 13, 2021

For Valentine’s Day, we look at how the interweaving passions of three American greats – Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg – were as mesmerising as their art

The sensual American graffitist Cy Twombly, who lived in Italy from the late 1950s until his death in 2011, lushly inscribed his epic canvases with love poetry – Shelley and Keats, Cavafy and Catullus. The work was like an abstract expressionist Valentine’s card. He even used hearts and roses in his work, as well as penises, breasts, anuses and vaginas. But who was his Valentine?

The answer is as epic and enigmatic as Twombly’s art. In the early 1950s he met a young artist called Robert Rauschenberg and they became lovers. On one occasion while they were studying at the avant-garde art school Black Mountain College, he saved Rauschenberg from drowning in a lake. It was no accident: Rauschenberg had attempted suicide. Twombly followed him into the water unhesitatingly. How’s that for romantic?

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