‘Destroyed’ Cy Twombly Mural Still There

the Louvre’s Salle des Bronzes as it appeared from 1935 til 2021, with Cy Twombly’s The Ceiling, 2010

There is drama about the Cy Twombly ceiling in the Louvre.

In 2010 Cy Twombly painted a mural on the ceiling– In 2010, a Cy Twombly mural glued to the ceiling of a gallery at the Louvre was unveiled. The 11×30 meter painting is titled The Ceiling, or le Plafond, and it is installed in the Salle des Bronzes.

Even the catalogue essayist noticed that it didn’t look like a Twombly. Maybe because it was painted by assistants in a French studio arranged by Gagosian, after a sketch by the artist1. Twombly said the planet-looking circles against a blue sky are actually references to Greek shields on a background inspired by Giotto, Matisse, or a Japanese print. [Tho lol to a French critic, everything looks like a breast.] The gallery, once part of the 16th century royal apartments, has displayed Greek antiquities since Napoleon, but it contained neither shields nor works by any of the Greek sculptors namechecked on The Ceiling.

Charles Giraud, Napoleon III Terracotta Room, 1866, collection RMN-Grand Palais/Louvre, via NYT

After extensive research by a state historical preservation office independent from the Louvre, the gallery was remodeled during the COVID shutdown with some inspo from an 1866 painting of the space by Charles Giraud. The higher ceiling and skylights were obviously not an option, but the buff stone walls and inlaid marble floor of the Salle’s 1930’s art deco style were replaced by the parquet, deep terracotta colored walls, and a black dado evoking, I guess, the cabinets lining the walls, of the 19th century.

in-process destruction (sic) of Twombly’s Louvre ceiling by historically inspired Marron Côte d’Azur paint, photographed in Feb. 2021 for the NYT by Dmitry Kostyukov

Early this year, someone sent a pic of the in-process renovation to Nicola del Roscio of the Cy Twombly Foundation, who promptly erupted with a why-wasn’t-I-consulted? lawyer letter to the Louvre president, and then, after a couple of days of not hearing back, to the Louvre president’s manager.

“Taking as his starting point the white stone walls that reflect natural light,” del Roscio’s statement said, Twombly “conceived a ceiling that is a light floating canopy in subtle colours…The deep red that has been introduced violates these harmonies and entirely destroys the balance of his sensitive and memorable installation.” Which gave The Art Newspaper leave to put this epic headline on Vincent Noce’s first report: “Cy Twombly foundation ‘absolutely prepared to take legal action’ after Louvre ‘destroys’ artist’s ceiling painting in renovation works.” The Foundation demanded a return to the stone (or I’ve seen it called stucco, which is a very different thing) of the 1936 design Twombly supposedly responded to.

The Louvre did not handle this situation well, initially mischaracterizing the interior they’d already removed. A lawsuit was actually filed, which I would like to read, and not just because the actual claim of droit moral seems novel to this non-avocat. The NY Times reported that French media observers saw the controversy as part of a political maneuver to block the Louvre’s president, Jean-Luc Martinez, from renewing his expiring, eight-year contract. He was indeed replaced, reported Noce, by Laurence de Cars, the first woman to head the Louvre. De Cars had been involved, along with Martinez’ predecessor–and Twombly ceiling instigator–Henri Loyrette, with the Louvre Abu Dhabi project.

As it turns out, Noce has reported on this contentious, mismanaged, multi-decade, multi-billion euro collaboration, too, where curators of France’s national museum were contracted to build a collection–with Abu Dhabi’s money–for Abu Dhabi. In Libération in 2013, Noce reported that Twombly’s donation of The Ceiling to the Louvre, and its underwriting by Gagosian, was actually a kickback for the EUR15 million purchase of a new suite of nine, giant Twomblys–by the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Noce dismisses them as late and weak–and even, inexplicably, incomplete. But unlike The Ceiling, these paintings look very much like what I’d expect Twombly to be making in 2008.

installation view of Cy Twombly’s Untitled I–IX, 2008 at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, screenshot via CNN

Anyway, with new, ancien régime leadership came a renewed insouciance toward the urgency of historicist interpretation. In exceptional consultation with The Cy Twombly Foundation, and in exchange for the withdrawal of the lawsuit, the Louvre will replace the Marron Côte d’Azur and Noir of Napoleon III’s Salle des Bronzes with as-yet-unannounced “lighter tones” of paint. And so this museological moment passes, and none of the public will ever experience The Wall‘s destructive violence toward The Ceiling.

1 Unless? There is a sketch of The Ceiling in the Louvre’s collection, with the note, “Cette maquette n’est pas de la main de Twombly mais la copie de son projet qui n’était pas aux proportions de la surface à peindre. Le plafond exéxuté ne l’a pas non plus été par Twombly lui-même mais par deux collaborateurs (voir l’article de la revue Grande Galerie à ce sujet). / This model is not the hand of Twombly but the copy of his project which was not in the proportions of the surface to be painted. The ceiling was not executed either by Twombly himself but by two collaborators (see the article in the Grande Galerie review on this subject).” Now you all KNOW I am ride or die on both Twombly AND #FrenchPaintMill. but to realize only now that this work, 13 years old, and the subject of a pissy lawsuit, is BOTH? The mind reels.

And of course, even in the blurb for the catalogue, the Louvre takes this total offloading of the project with a ceiling half full attitude: “What is surprising about this monumental work covering almost 400 sq.m is the unprecedented approach taken by the artist. Known for his painting-writing style with its nervous graphic elements and splashes of vibrant color, Cy Twombly has adapted himself to the site without imposing upon it, respecting the Zen qualities of detachment, lightness, and permanence that suffuse his work.”

Here is a 2009 visit with Barbara Crawford, the southern Virginia artist and art professor who was asked by her friend Cy Twombly to paint the maquette above and the painting itself, in the Montreuil warehouse where it happened. TBF it does sound like the colors were specifically mixed and matched for the Salle des Bronzes as it existed in 2009.

Previously, related: Destroyed Cy Twombly Backdrop