A large Cy Twombly painting that hasn’t been seen in public for over 25 years is finally getting some fresh air this May. Leda and the Swan (1962), a work with a sister painting that has long been in the collection at the Museum of Modern Art, will be offered at auction for the first time when it goes on the block as a star lot of Christie’s postwar and contemporary evening sale on May 17. The work, which has had only two owners in its long history, has a low estimate of $35 million and a high estimate of $55 million.
“Impregnated with paint passionately and poetically applied with the hand, brush, and stick, Leda and the Swan is one of the most vital canvases created during this transformative period in the artist’s career,” Koji Inoue, international director of the auction house’s contemporary department, said in a statement. “Given its tremendous importance within the context of both Twombly’s oeuvre and the canon of postwar art, we are honored to have the opportunity to offer this work to the market after nearly 30 clandestine years.”
The sale will come just weeks after the Centre Pompidou in Paris closes its well-received Twombly show, the artist’s first comprehensive retrospective in Europe.
The news of the Twombly means there will be at least four lots estimated to sell in the eight-figure range at the May evening sale at Christie’s. In February, the house revealed that it had won the consignment of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963), which has a low estimate of $50 million and a high estimate of $70 million. In addition, Andy Warhol’s Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable) from 1962 and Roy Lichtenstein’s Red and White Brushstroke (1965) both carry a low estimate of $25 million and a high estimate of $35 million.
Leda and the Swan could conceivably break the record for a Twombly at auction. The current mark stands at $70.5 million, and was set when Untitled (New York City), 1968—a particularly giant one of Twombly’s “blackboard” works—sold for $70.5 million at Sotheby’s New York evening sale in November 2015. On that night, it was former Sotheby’s postwar co-chairman Alex Rotter who nabbed the “blackboard” work on behalf of a client on the phone.
Incidentally, Rotter just weeks ago began his new position as chairman of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, having defected from its arch-rival last June. Sources tell me that, on his first day on the job, Rotter was closing the deal securing the consignment of Leda and the Swan.