United States



Born in New York in 1946, Robert Mapplethorpe died in the same city in 1989. He studied art at the Pratt Institute from 1963 to 1969, when he moved in with singer and artist Patti Smith at the Chelsea Hotel. Together they met the members of the famous studio that Andy Warhol had opened five years earlier, the Factory. Mapplethorpe’s photographic practice was consolidated after a visit to the photographic archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1971.

In 1972, the collector Sam Wagstaff became his friend and patron, and bought him a studio. He then began to exhibit regularly and from 1980 collaborated with various magazines, including Vogue, producing mainly advertising photographs. His homo-erotic photographs made him known to the general public and unleashed the wrath of puritan America on the occasion of the exhibition The Perfect Moment organized by Janet Kardon at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia in 1988, which went back over 25 years of his work.

About the artworks

An admirer of the American artist Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe first used photography in his painting, before devoting himself fully to it in the form of unsparing self-portraits and portraits of celebrities from the world of arts and entertainment. His first works were Polaroids of his close friend, Patti Smith. He photographed artists, composers, socialites, pornstars and members of the SM underground. His work falls into three genres: still life (flowers and antique sculptures in his later years), portraiture and nudes. Preferring to work in black and white, with a neutral, dark and even background, and in a square format, he achieved the greatest formal perfection in his nudes (Black Males, 1980), which reflect his fascination with the human body, especially that of black men with sculptural physiques.

His photographs have sometimes been considered scandalous and shocking for their content, and yet, at the same time, praised for their refined quality and great technical mastery: immobility, symmetry, virtuosity make them classic works of great perfection. His erotic photographs of male nudes sometimes tend towards pornography, and his photographs of flowers are often symbolically attached to the sexual register, but all maintain enough distance, without emotion and without judgment, to also have real aesthetic power.

The artworks

Collection of contemporary art