Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily - for advice only Calla Lily, 1986 Paper 60.4 x 50.2cm, image 48.6 x 48.8cm
Lot 47
Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) Calla Lily, 1986 Paper 60.4 x 50.2cm (23 3/4 x 19 3/4in), image 48.6 x 48.8cm (19 1/8 x 19 1/4in).
Sold for £39,650 (US$ 66,644) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Calla Lily, 1986
Gelatin silver print, flush-mounted to card. Signed, dated and numbered '4/10' in ink in the margin. The reverse of mount with the photographer's copyright stamp 'This photograph was taken in 1986 and printed in 1986. It may not be reproduced without written permission by the photographer' signed in ink. Also titled and numbered in ink in another hand on the reverse. Number 4 in an edition of 10. Framed. Claus Runkel Fine Art gallery label on reverse of frame.
Paper 60.4 x 50.2cm (23 3/4 x 19 3/4in), image 48.6 x 48.8cm (19 1/8 x 19 1/4in).


  • Provenance:
    Acquired by the present owner from Claus Runkel Fine Art, London, c. 1986

    Mapplethorpe, R., Mapplethorpe: The Complete Flowers (Düsseldorf: teNeues, 2006), plate 126
    Marshall, R., Robert Mapplethorpe (London: Secker & Warburg, 1988), p.181

    Symbols of his quest for perfection of form, his mastery of lighting, and gift for texture and tone, Robert Mapplethorpe's flowers form one of the most significant chapters in his artistic career. Invariably shown cut from their life source, placed in bowls or vases, or – as here – entering the frame from the side with no anchor, their very strength and beauty belie a creeping mortality. Each example is photographed at its optimum, strong and erect, the photographer barely allowing his well-documented fascination with death and decay to touch the surface.

    As references to sex and death, Mapplethorpe's flowers connect with his wider themes and interests. The strength of these perfect specimens mirrors that of the toned bodies photographed elsewhere in his work and the precise examination of flower parts has led inevitably to comparisons with his keen analysis of the male body. The same artistic impulse is at play: the desire to pose and isolate a form, and to capture the ideal version of it. The photographer repeatedly turned to the calla lily to achieve this throughout his career, playing on the flower's natural shapes to tease out highly charged allusions.

    Mapplethorpe often professed an indifference to or even dislike of his images of flowers, struggling to pin down an elusive, unsettling quality they possess: "They have a certain archness to them", he has said, "a certain edge". He talked of "feeling guilty", even, at watching them die. Yet it is clear they were a constant draw and he loved photographing them, as the ideal subjects with which to perfect his classical method. Rich, sensual and elegant, they remain, above all, testament to his extraordinary creative and technical skill.
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