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Tulips, 1977

Tulips, 1977
unique gelatin silver print diptych
annotated in pencil 'Left' and 'Right' (on the reverse of the mounts)
each 14 x 13 7/8in. (35.6 x 35.2cm.); in the artist's original frame
With Holly Solomon Gallery, New York;
to the present owner
A Book of Photographs from the Collection of Sam Wagstaff, Gray Press, 1978, front and back covers; Robert Mapplethorpe, Parco, 1987, n.p. (right side only); Marshall, Robert Mapplethorpe, Whitney Museum of American Art/Little, Brown and Co., 1988, p. 57 (this actual lot); Mapplethorpe: Altars, Random House, 1995, p. 65 (this actual lot), p. 66 (left side), p. 67 (right side); Mapplethorpe: Pistils, Random House, 1996, p. 55 (right side only)
Mapplethorpe Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art,
July 27 - October 23, 1988.

Lot Essay

It was in New York City in 1975 that Paul Walter first met Sam Wagstaff, a collector of photographs among other things, with an unerring eye and impeccable taste. Shortly thereafter, Walter was introduced to the young artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and that same year, went to visit him at his loft on Bond Street. When Walter walked in, he saw several portraits that Mapplethorpe had taken of Walter's friends, such as Helen Marden and Henry Geldzahler. Like many of the works that Mapplethorpe was producing at this time, these portraits were made as unique constructions, outfitted with custom mats (often made from silk or velvet) and frames, and in the diptych or triptych format. In December 1975, Walter commissioned a triptych portrait of himself, which remains in his collection today.

In 1977, immediately following the opening of Mapplethorpe's debut solo exhibition in New York at The Holly Solomon Gallery, Sam Wagstaff threw a party for him at the restaurant of the moment, One Fifth, located at 1 Fifth Avenue, on the first floor of the building where Wagstaff lived. Paul Walter was in attendance, and the next day, sent a bunch of flowers (tulips) to Mapplethorpe as a congratulation for his exhibition, and to Wagstaff as a thank you for the dinner. Mapplethorpe took several photographs of the tulips that he received from Walter. These were some of his earliest photographs of flowers, a subject that would become one of the most important of his oeuvre.

Paul Walter subsequently commissioned Mapplethorpe to construct a diptych in the same manner as the portraits (a custom mat and frame construction) of two of the tulip photographs. The transaction was conducted through Holly Solomon, who represented Mapplethorpe at the time and issued the invoice to Walter.

The unique object that resulted holds an indisputably important place in the scope of Mapplethorpe's legacy. One year after its completion, in 1978, Mapplethorpe placed the image that was the right panel of the diptych on the front cover of his Y Portfolio. Additionally, in the same year, Sam Wagstaff published with the Gray Press, A Book of Photographs from the Collection of Sam Wagstaff, upon which the right and left panels became the front and back covers.

The circumstances, events and people around the creation of this work combine to mark a poignantly precise moment in the history of art and the vibrant cultural fabric from which it was produced in New York City in the mid 1970s.

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