Robert Mapplethorpe

1946-1989

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Who is Robert Mapplethorpe?

With his name inscribed on the list of the most significant artists of the 20th century, Robert Mapplethorpe was an American photographer known for his controversial, large-scale, highly-stylized black and white images that literally changed the medium of modern photography. His portfolio featured a wide range of subjects and themes, including celebrity portraits, male and female nudes, self-portraits and still life images. By far his most provocative work is the underground slavery and sadomasochistic scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Robert Mapplethorpe’s life and work were a true cornerstone of modern photography and the medium was never quite the same after he changed it for good.

Status, prices and estimates for the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

Price of a photograph by the artist at auction: 400 – 100,000 €.

If you would like to have a Mapplethorpe photograph appraised, our photo experts are available for a free appraisal.

The beginning, the 70s and Patti Smith

Robert was born in 1946 in Floral Park, Queens. In 1963 he began studying at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where he studied drawing, painting and sculpture, and was greatly influenced by artists such as Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. In 1970, the same year Robert began taking more serious photographs, the artist moved into the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan with Patti Smith, Mapplethorpe’s girlfriend, who he’d known for about three years at that time. The two were in a complicated romantic relationship, but they were still each other’s greatest supporters in terms of artistic expression. Soon after his arrival at the hotel, Robert’s career took off. In 1973, the Light Gallery in New York held Robert Mapplethorpe’s first solo exhibition, simply titled Polaroids. Robert Mapplethorpe began to make a name for himself and built a reputation as a rebellious artist who lived for his uncompromising work.

Mapplethorpe’s Mature Artworks: Nudes, Still Lifes and Celebrities

In the second half of the 1970s, Robert Mapplethorpe’s career continued to grow. In 1977, he participated in Documenta 6 in Kassel, West Germany, and in 1978 the Robert Miller Gallery in New York became his exclusive distributor. And as he quickly became a household name, Mapplethorpe’s portfolio began to stand out as some of the most distinctive work available. He stubbornly stuck to the black and white images that became his trademark at that time. After taking some pictures of the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1976, Mapplethorpe did a series on Lisa Lyon, the first female world bodybuilding champion. In the late 1970s, Mapplethorpe, already very famous, became increasingly interested in documenting the New York S&M scene, a taboo subject at the time. The resulting photographs are shocking in their content and remarkable in their technical mastery. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mapplethorpe produced a body of work that challenged conventional aesthetic norms while conforming to them – his work was provocative and controversial, while incorporating stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate floral still lifes and studio portraits that were straight out of certain photographic disciplines.

Posterior work and death

Although much of Mapplethorpe’s work has been considered erotically explicit and unconventional, he also became known for his classical sensibility in his choices of light, shadow and black-and-white form. In the mid-1980s, he designed the sets for Lucinda Childs’ Portraits in Reflection, created a series of gravure photographs for Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, and was commissioned by curator Richard Marshall to make portraits of New York artists. Although he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, this was the most active period of his career. He accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic investigation and accepted increasingly demanding commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted its first major American museum retrospective in 1988, a highly successful exhibition held almost a year before Robert’s death in 1989. After a long struggle, Mapplethorpe died on the morning of March 9, 1989, at the age of 42, in Boston, Massachusetts. His body was cremated and the ashes buried in his mother’s grave in Queens, New York, bearing the etching “Maxey”.

Recognising Robert Mapplethorpe’s signature

Like many artists, Robert Mapplethorpe did not sign all of his works. However, you will find below an example of the signatures to give you an idea. Variations of these signatures do exist, do not hesitate to contact one of our experts to formally authenticate a signature.

signature Robert Mapplethorpe 

Appraise and sell a photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe

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