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Cy Twombly, American abstract painter, dies in Rome

Cy Twombly arrives at the Louvre museum in Paris, March 23, 2010. AP

(CBS/AP) American painter Cy Twombly, whose large-scale scribbled canvases fetched millions at auction, died on Tuesday. He was 83.

Gagosian Gallery spokeswoman Virginia Coleman said Twombly, who had cancer for a number of years, died Tuesday. Eric Mezil, director of the Lambert Collection in Avignon, France, where a Twombly show opened in June, said he died in Rome. Twombly had mostly lived in Italy since 1959.

Twombly was known for his abstract works combining painting and drawing techniques, repetitive lines, scribbles and the use of words and graffiti. He is often linked to the legendary American artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, whom he met as a student in New York in the early 1950s.

"Whether it's making sculpture or working across canvas or making small drawings with quite elaborate and detailed elements in them, you have this very strong sense of the physical presence of these paintings and sculptures, and you have the sense of an artist at work," the Tate's director Nicholas Serota said in an in-house interview ahead of a 2008 show of his work.

Though recognition came late for his work and he was often overshadowed by the famous company he kept, like Johns and Rauschenberg Twombly was asked to paint a ceiling of the Louvre museum in Paris in 2010, the first artist given the honor since Georges Braque in the 1950s.

For that work he chose something simple: a deep blue background punctuated with floating disks and emblazoned with the names of sculptors from ancient Greece, apt for a gallery of bronzes.

"I got into something new in old age," he said of his choice of color, which was unusual.

Works by the artist, who was born in Lexington, Va., fetched millions at auction: An untitled Twombly painting set an auction record for the artist at a 2002 Sotheby's sale, fetching 5.6 million Euros.

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His canvases also ignited the passions of his followers. In 2007, a woman was arrested in France for kissing an all-white canvas he painted, worth about $2 million. Restorers had trouble getting the lipstick off, and she was ordered to pay hundreds of dollars to the owner and the gallery and $1.50 to the artist himself.

Twombly won a series of awards, including a knight in France's Legion of Honor bestowed at the inauguration of the Louvre ceiling.

He won Japan's highest and most prestigious art award in 1998, the Praemium Imperiale prize, which honors fields not covered by the Nobels.

In 2001 he snapped up the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale, where he first exhibited his work in 1980.

Born Edwin Parker Twombly in 1928, the artist got his nickname from his father, who was a baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and had been called Cy after another famous slugger, "Cyclone" Young. Eventually Twombly Jr. got the same nickname.

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In 1954, he was drafted and trained as a cryptographer in the U.S. Army. In 1959, he married Luisa Tatiana Franchetti and they had a son, Alessandro Cyrus, the catalog said.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.

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