Cy Twombly Estate Provokes Italian Tax Controversy

Italian government claims Twombly owes taxes totaling almost $40 million

The American artist Cy Twombly who died last July, in his adoptive Italian home, in Rome, age 83, has set the capital’s taxmen scrambling, to find a way to take a portion of his multimillion dollar estate.  Twombly is perhaps best known for his chalkboard style abstract paintings, that have been referenced as the inspiration for modern graffiti art. His paintings sell for multimillion dollar prices and are in great demand from collectors and museums alike.
Italy had been Mr Twombly’s adoptive home for several years. It was also a big inspiration for his art, both culturally and subjectively.
The Italian government claims that Twombly, had evaded paying taxes in the region of almost $40 million from the sale of 40 paintings between 2005 and 2009. The Government now intends to move towards seizing  assets totalling  $38.8 million, that was held in Twombly’s name, in a Roman bank. The officials also claim that Twombly’s American attorney Ralph Ernest Lerner and accountant Thomas Habib Saliba, were complicit in this so called tax evasion.

Questions have also been asked about involvement of the international art dealer Larry Gagosian in the senario. Mr Gagosian opened a gallery in Rome on the advise of Mr Twombly, who remains one of the Gallery’s most important artists. A spokesperson for the gallery stated to the press,“Larry Gagosian and Gagosian galleries have no involvement of any kind in this tax dispute.” The confusion stems from misinformation on the part of the Italian bank and local tax office that holds Twombly’s assets. This is “really an issue as to which country the taxes should have been paid to.” There is a tax treaty between the United States and Italy that prevents double taxation of an individual and taxes on the works of art were paid in full to the U.S tax department. It is  thought that under the circumstances, all of this is just a misunderstanding that will be sorted out by tax officials, in a face to face meeting, expected later this month. The Gagosian Gallery has added that, ” none of the paintings were sold in Italy”. There was never any tax evasion, other sources have stated.

Twombly paintings blur the line between drawing and painting. Many of his best-known works from the late 1960s are reminiscent of a school blackboard on which someone has practiced cursive “e”s. His paintings of the late 1950s, early 1960s might be reminiscent of long term accumulation of bathroom graffiti. Twombly had at this point discarded painting figurative, representational subject-matter, citing the line or smudge  each mark with its own history  as its proper subject.Later, many of his paintings and works on paper moved into “romantic symbolism”, and their titles can be interpreted visually through shapes and forms and words. Twombly often quoted the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as many classical myths and allegories in his works. Examples of this are his Apollo and The Artist and a series of eight drawings consisting solely of inscriptions of the word “VIRGIL”. Photo: Larry Gagosian at a Paris exhibition


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