This summer, Dulwich Picture Gallery hosts a contest between the figurative and abstract in a deeply intelligent curatorial exercise focusing on the work of two artists who lived and worked 300 hundred years apart.
The Eternal City is the inspirational backdrop for the creation of paralleled subject matter. Poussin basks in the afterglow of The Renaissance, while Twombly is firmly ensconced in the 1950s Rome of Cinecittà, where this metropolis starred in the golden age of Italian cinema.
Both explore the ideal of Arcadia. Poussin himself was seen as the ‘Holy Grail’ of composition until the late 18th century, whilst Twombly is the deconstructor of established themes, referencing delicately etched texts in scrawled pencil and even including Poussin’s drawings in his own collaged pieces. The Triumph of Pan (1636) sits at the top of Bacchanalia:Fall (1977) partly obscured under translucent graph paper, giving the older piece the appearance of a sequence of movement study by Eadweard Muybridge.
The passing of time is encapsulated within the eternal cycle of four seasons by both artists, the final room containing Twombly’s huge abstract studies of rotting vegetation, winter fog and bright yellow streaked reflections on the Bay of Naples.
Mount Parnassus, a hideout of Apollo and his muses, becomes a mythological location accessed through the work of poets known to both Poussin and Twombly. While Poussin delicately documents a ‘mise en scène’, Twombly presents a conceptual re-imagining.
The atmospheric mausoleum houses one previously unseen Twombly sculpture, while another room offers a unique chance to see Poussin’s Ordination from the Sacraments series before it is sold and the leaves the UK.
By Harry Urgent
Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters opens today until 22 September: Tue-Fri 10am-5pm, weekends and Bank Holiday Mondays 11am-5pm. Gallery and exhibition £9/£5 conc. Free entry for children and Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, which is located on Gallery Road, SE21 7AD
Image (detail): Bacchanalia:Fall (1977) by Cy Twombly, featuring Poussin’s drawing The Triumph of Pan (1636) under graph paper.