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Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more FOUR SELF-PORTRAITS BY ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)


Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
signed and dated 'Robert Mapplethorpe '85' (lower right); numbered '2/3' (lower left); signed and dated three times '1985 Robert Mapplethorpe' (in photographer's copyright credit stamp on the reverse)
platinum-palladium print
image: 19 3/8 x 19 5/8in. (49.2 x 49.8cm.)
sheet: 26 x 22in. (66 x 55.8cm.)
Photographed in 1985 and printed in 1985, this work is number two from an edition of three plus one artist's proof

Other platinum prints from the edition are in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and the joint collection of the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Robert Miller Gallery, New York.
Private Collection, Midwest.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 6 October 1999, lot 216.
Rex, Inc., New York.
Their sale, Christie's New York, 17 October 2007, lot 135.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
M. Holborn and D. Levas (eds.), Mapplethorpe, London 1995, p. 42 (another example illustrated).
J. Neutres (ed.), Robert Mapplethorpe, exh. cat. Paris, Grand Palais 2014, p. 25 (another example illustrated).
G. Celant, Mapplethorpe: The Nymph Photography, Milan 2014, p. 187, no. 45 (another example illustrated, p. 66).
London, National Portrait Gallery, Mapplethorpe Portraits, 1988, p. 33, no. 13 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Tokyo, I. C. A. C. Weston Gallery, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1992 (another example exhibited).
Tokyo, Teien Museum, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1992- 1993 (another example exhibited). This exhibition later travelled to Mito, Contemporary Art Gallery; Kamakura, The Museum of Modern Art; Nagoya, Nagoya City Art Museum and Shiga, The Museum of Modern Art.
Monterrey, Museo de Monterrey, Becher Mapplethorpe Sherman, 1992 (another example exhibited).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Robert Mapplethorpe, curated by Germano Celant, 1992-1997 (another example exhibited). This exhibition later travelled to Venice, Centro di Documentazione di Palazzo Fortuny; Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Prato, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea; Manila, Residence of Embassador Negroponte; Prato, Museo Pecci Prato; Turku, Finland, Turun Taidemuseo; Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts; Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art; Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró; Vienna, KunstHausWien; Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art; Perth, Art Gallery of Western Australia; Wellington, New Zealand, City Gallery Wellington; London, Hayward Gallery; Dublin, Gallery of Photography; São Paulo, Museo de Art Moderna and Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Robert Mapplethorpe: Self-Portraits, 1993 (another example exhibited).
Tokyo, Hakone Open-Air Museum, Against All Odds: The Healing Powers of Art, 1994 (another example exhibited). This exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, Ueno Royal Museum.
Paris, Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Les autoportraits de Mapplethorpe, 1996, no. 37 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Milan, Gio Marconi Gallery, 1996 (another example exhibited).
Milwaukee, Milwaukee Arts Museum, Identity Crisis: Self Portraiture at the End of the Century, 1997 (another example exhibited).
Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Love’s Body: Rethinking Naked and Nude in Photography, 1998 (another example exhibited).
Valencia, Centre Cultural La Beneficencia, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1999 (another example exhibited).
Havana, Fototeca de Cuba, Sacred and Profane: Robert Mapplethorpe, 2005 (another example exhibited).
Turin, Palazzo della Promotrice, Robert Mapplethorpe: Tra antico e moderno: Un' antologia, 2006 (another example exhibited).
Prien am Chiemseem, Germany, Galerie im Alten Rathaus, Robert Mapplethorpe: Porträts und Erotik, 2006 (another example exhibited). This exhibition later travelled to Klagenfurt, Austria, Stadtgalerie.
Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Guggenheim Collection: 1940s to Now, 2007 (another example exhibited).
Bogota, FotoMuseo National Museum of Photography, Fotografica Bogota, 2009 (another example exhibited).
London, Alison Jacques Gallery, Robert Mapplethorpe: A Season in Hell, 2009 (another example exhibited).
Buenos Aires, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Robert Mapplethrope: Eros and Order, 2010 (another example exhibited).
Dusseldorf, NRW-Forum Kultur Wirtschaft, Robert Mapplethorpe, 2010 (another example exhibited).
Berlin, C/O Berlin, Robert Mapplethorpe, 2011 (another example exhibited). This exhibition later travelled to Stockholm, Fotografiska; Milan, Forma Foundation for Photography and Budapest, Ludwig Museum.
R. Koch (ed.), Master Photographers, Paris 2012, p. 274 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Robert Mapplethorpe Self-Portraits, 2013.
Paris, Musée Rodin, Mapplethorpe/Rodin, 2014, p. 192, no. 88 (another example exhibited and illustrated, unpaged).
Paris, Grand Palais, Robert Mapplethorpe, 2014-2015, p. 25 (another example exhibited). This exhibition later travelled to Helsinki, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art.
Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Urban Theater: New York Art in the 1980s, 2014-2015 (another example exhibited).
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Warhol & Mapplethorpe Guise & Dolls, 2015-2016, pl. 70, p.126 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 127).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Du Bist Faust: Goethes Drama in der Kunst, 2017 (another example exhibited).
Special Notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay


‘Mapplethorpe is always transparently himself. The nakedness is always his nakedness’
–Arthur C Danto

‘Beauty and the devil are the same thing’
–Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe’s self-portraits are landmark works: not only in the history of photography, but in the history of a genre that has its roots in Dürer and Rembrandt. Within a comparatively short career, spanning just over two decades, he redefined the ways in which we engage with our own image. Coming to prominence in 1970s New York, Mapplethorpe initially worked with Polaroids before gravitating towards the minimal elegance of black and white photography. His self-portraits, which saw him assume a multiplicity of roles, brought a new sense of fluidity to the concept of identity. Defined by their distinctive frontal gaze and quiet classical composure, they were less depictions of himself than powerful declarations of the many faces and personae he was at liberty to embody. In a rapidly changing society, he fearlessly confronted taboos surrounding gender, sexuality and mortality, seeking to instil beauty and dignity into subjects that lay outside accepted social norms. Though cloaked in shifting guises and proverbial masks, each of Mapplethorpe’s self-portraits laid bare a piece of himself, demanding that his audience take their assumptions to task.

The following grouping showcases four of Mapplethorpe’s most iconic images. Adorned with make-up in Self-Portrait (1980) [lot 3], the artist explores a central theme: his own sexuality. Despite the deeply intimate relationship that Mapplethorpe shared with his lover Patti Smith, he was also heavily involved in New York’s gay scene. Working against the backdrop of the sexual revolution in the 1970s, many of his self-portraits sought to deconstruct traditional gender binaries, frequently referencing Marcel Duchamp’s female alter-ego Rrose Sélavy. In another 1980 Self-Portrait [lot 1], Mapplethorpe by contrast presents himself as an archetypal 1950s bad boy, channelling James Dean and Marlon Brando with his coiffed hair, black leather jacket and cigarette dangling from his mouth. Wearing horns in Self-Portrait (1985) [lot 2], he casts himself as the devil: a Dionysian figure, dramatically illuminated from below. Mapplethorpe had been raised in a Catholic environment where homosexuality was not easily accepted, and religious iconography came to haunt his work. The photograph is a platinum print: an expensive and difficult medium, typically reserved for his favourite images, which lends the work a near-painterly quality and soft, ethereal glow.

In 1986, Mapplethorpe was informed of his HIV positive status; he would die three years later, at the age of 42. Created the year before his diagnosis, Self-Portrait (1985) [lot 4] is already infused with a sense of his own transience. Here, Mapplethorpe largely dispenses with disguise: his head is captured in motion, leaving behind a ghostly after-image. With his black shirt fading into the background, Mapplethorpe anticipates his celebrated Self-Portrait of 1988, in which his body seems to disappear into the void, leaving only his disembodied face and premonitory skull-topped cane. ‘If I have to change my lifestyle’, he reportedly claimed, ‘I don’t want to live’ (R. Mapplethorpe, quoted in P. Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe: A Biography, New York 1997, p. 325). With his eyes turned away from the camera lens, as if contemplating a place beyond our vision, the work is a poignant image of a man who consistently brought his audience face to face with the unknown and the unseen.


As a rare, expensive and difficult-to-manipulate metal, platinum was reserved for Mapplethorpe’s favoured images. Platinum lends a lush and painterly texture, a wide variety of mid-tone greys, and an ethereal glow that appears to emanate from within the image. Having been brought up as a strict Catholic, Mapplethorpe must have taken particular pleasure in presenting himself – an openly gay artist – as the embodiment of all that he had been raised to fear. The lush platinum tonality indeed adds a religious, nearly sacred aura to an otherwise sacrilegious image, satisfying Mapplethorpe’s wish to take on the Catholic Church.

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