Robert Mapplethorpe

Orchid (1987)

About this artwork

This photograph is a close-up study of an orchid against a plain dark background. In the last years of his life Mapplethorpe made a number of images of flowers. This work is a typical example of this subject matter, in which the highly detailed images are suggestive of sexual organs, both male and female. For his ‘portraits’ of flowers, Mapplethorpe frequently chose lilies, orchids and tulips whose fleshy petals suggest the texture of human skin. Captured in exquisite detail, Mapplethorpe used photography to preserve their ephemeral and fleeting beauty.

  • title: Orchid
  • accession number: AR01144
  • artist: Robert MapplethorpeAmerican (1946 - 1989)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Photograph
  • subject: Flowers
  • date created: 1987
  • measurements: 61.00 x 50.80 cm (frames: 81.70 x 78.50 x 2.8 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.