Cy Twombly - Nini’s Painting, 1971
“In 1971, Nini Pirandello, the wife of Twombly’s Roman gallerist Plinio De Martiis, died suddenly. These canvases, Nini’s Paintings, were painted in tribute to her. In his 1915 text, ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, Sigmund Freud describes the act of mourning as a process that unfolds ‘bit by bit’; an obsessive and repetitive listing in an attempt to sever the bond between deceased and bereaved. This can only be done once the mourner has rerun memories of the lost loved one. But sometimes mourning fails, and the ego tethers itself to what has been lost, excluding the outside world rather than the absence it is meant to supersede. This, according to Freud, results in melancholia. ‘Unspeakably sad,’ so an oft-used phrase goes; as if language fails us when we are truly overcome by grief. Twombly’s elegiac Nini’s Paintings seem to embody an absence impossible to articulate. Inchoate, they are always on the cusp of speaking to us, only to crumble and dissolve before our gaze. As Richard Leeman has written, there is within these stammering works ‘obsessive repetition[,] an inability to say something: madness, tragedy, deep melancholy’.
—Nicholas Cullinan, Mourning and Melancholia: Nini’s Paintings