Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)

Patti Smith, 1987

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
Patti Smith, 1987
unique platinum print on canvas; original artist's frame construction
'Robert Miller Gallery', 'Baudoin Lebon' gallery labels affixed (on the frame backing)
23 7/8 x 19¾in. (60.5 x 50.2cm.)
From the Estate of Robert Mapplethorpe;
to a private collection
Robert Mapplethorpe: Patti Smith, Bellport Press, 1987, n.p., variant; Kardon, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 1988, p. 80; Mapplethorpe: Altars, Random House, 1995, p. 53; Robert Mapplethorpe: Ten by Ten, Schirmer/Mosel, 1998, pl. 52
Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Miller Gallery, May 1987; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo, Japan, Robert Mapplethorpe Retrospective, August 24- September 25, 2002

Lot Essay

Robert Mapplethorpe's life and the trajectory of his career were profoundly influenced by two close personal relationships. One was with his contemporary, rock poet-singer Patti Smith, the other with the enigmatic, charismatic and brilliant collector Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe's senior by twenty-five years. The relationship between Smith and Mapplethorpe started in 1967 and became particularly intense through the years in which they were developing their respective forms as creative artists - through words and music, and through photography. Their bond, one of mutual respect, trust and deep affection was to last till Mapplethorpe's death, at which point both enjoyed high international profiles, though they had little contact in the latter years. Mapplethorpe made a number of images of Smith, poignant and intimate portraits of a personality with whom he felt a very deep connection.

The present study was made in 1986 when the photographer - and his subject - knew that he was dying. It was intended as an album cover image, an echo of those he had made for her a decade earlier. Mapplethorpe's biographer Patricia Morrisroe has evoked the sitting: 'He had always admired her graceful hands for their resemblance to those of Georgia O'Keeffe, and he was probably thinking of Stieglitz's famous model when he directed his own muse to spread her unblemished hand across her chest in a gesture that evokes countless Stieglitz-O'Keeffe photographs.'1 The resulting image, rendered and exhibited the following year as a platinum print on linen in the dedicated exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery is an evocative, elegiac, final celebration of their relationship.

Sam Wagstaff had been instrumental in opening Mapplethorpe's eyes to the high aesthetic and expressive potential of his chosen medium, and encouraged his protégé to raise his game in terms of the structure, format and presentation of his images. From being mostly raw, spontaneous photo-sketches from an underground world of hard-core sex, they became highly styled artefacts that rapidly assumed the status of icons in the international art milieu. Wagstaff is best remembered as a passionate and inspired collector of photographs who opened the eyes of a generation to the power and mysteries within images from the medium's past. One might call Mapplethorpe his star pupil. Wagstaff taught him a great deal; they travelled together in pursuit of their fascination, notably to the regular London auctions, and Mapplethorpe became a collector also. One can trace within the historic photographs to which he was exposed, such as those by Stieglitz, the source of ideas that he developed in his own work. Wagstaff's particular fondness for the work of Julia Margaret Cameron is just one significant instance of the imagery to which the emerging photographer was introduced and which informed his own aesthetic, as is well evidenced in the present image. PG

Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe: A Biography, Random House, 1995, p. 313.

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