The Tate has been given its biggest donation for decades in the form of a group of paintings and sculptures by the late US artist Cy Twombly.
The works, which it said would fetch upwards of £50m if sold on the open market, consist of three big paintings and five bronzes by an artist described by Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate director, as “one of the great painters of the second half of the 20th century”.
Sir Nicholas said the gift ranked alongside Mark Rothko’s donation of the Seagram mural paintings in 1969, some of the Tate’s most popular works. “This is one of the most generous gifts ever to Tate by an artist or a foundation.”
Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and intoxication, is the theme of the large paintings, a recurring motif for the artist, who died, aged 83, in 2011. Completed between 2006 and 2008, Twombly produced the vermilion scrolls of the paintings in the manner of Henri Matisse, fixing a brush to the end of a pole.
Twombly made the bronzes by casting everyday objects or discarded items, such as the top of an olive barrel, with the results intended to evoke a sense of classical antiquity.
Born in Virginia in 1928, Twombly studied in Boston and North Carolina, before moving to Italy in 1957, where he met his wife.
He mingled with celebrated US artists of the time, including Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, but distanced himself from the then-dominant movement of abstract expressionism with a more restrained approach that was often heavy with classical allusion.
The works are already on loan to the Tate and are displayed together in Room 4 of London’s Tate Modern gallery.