In the fall of 1952, Cy Twombly receives a traveling scholarship from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and leaves New York for his first trip to Europe and North Africa. He meets up with Robert Rauschenberg in Casablanca, and the two of them travel to Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains, and then to Tangier. They pay a visit to Paul Bowles in Tétouan and go on day trips with him to nearby villages and Roman ruins. Twombly conducts his first and last archaeological excavation there. Upon their return to Rome in February 1953, Twombly studies and sketches the ethnographic objects and tribal artifacts he sees on display in the Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini. These sketches survive in the form of the North African Sketchbooks. Much of the surviving work from this trip consists of photographs taken with a Rolleiflex shared by the artists and sketches made by them, preserved in the archives of the Cy Twombly Foundation and Fondazione Nicola Del Roscio; they provide a unique perspective on Twombly's lesser-known affinity for Africa's Mediterranean shores.
Emerging from the New York art world of the early 1950s, Cy Twombly (1928-2011) brought a distinctive approach to painting and sculpture that evaded precise affiliation with the predominant movements of the twentieth century, including Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism.
Inspired by ancient Mediterranean history and geography, Greek and Roman mythology, and epic poetry, Twombly created—sometimes on a grand scale, in multiple-panel works—a sometimes-inscrutable world of iconography, metaphor, and myth.