Robert Mapplethorpe

Alice Neel (1984 (printed 1992))

About this artwork

Alice Neel was a pioneering figurative painter whose work showed the influence of European expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit. This intimate and poignant portrait of her was taken in New York when Neel was eighty four, just a week or so before her death from cancer in October 1984. Photographed with her eyes shut and mouth open, her portrait is a study in old age and the ephemeral and transient nature of human life, an apparently prescient reminder of her imminent death. The lighting draws attention to the nuances of Neel’s freckled skin and halo of white hair. Her open mouth – the only really dark area of her face – has been viewed both as an indication of resistance to impending death and as an evocation of a final breath.

see media
  • title: Alice Neel
  • accession number: AR01143
  • artist: Robert MapplethorpeAmerican (1946 - 1989)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Photograph
  • date created: 1984 (printed 1992)
  • measurements: 50.80 x 40.60 cm
  • credit line: ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Presented by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation 2010
  • copyright: © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
This artwork is part of Artist Rooms

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe

The American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe became famous, not to say, notorious, in the 1970s and 1980s for his photographs of the male nude and sexually explicit, gay imagery. Although often considered controversial, Mapplethorpe tested the right to individual freedom of expression. These images were not meant to be titillating or obscene but beautiful in a traditionally classical way. His work, therefore, holds a significant place in the history of artistic struggle to depict the world as it is, with honesty and truth. His nudes, when considered alongside his portraits of children and flower photographs, show him to be overwhelmingly interested in the beauty and transience of life. Mapplethorpe, even when facing death from AIDS, affirmed the beauty of the here and now.