Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989)
Sheet: 26 3/4 × 22 1/2 in. (67.9 × 57.2 cm) Image: 18 13/16 × 19 in. (47.8 × 48.3 cm) Frame: 29 × 28 × 1 5/16 in. (73.7 × 71.1 × 3.3 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Inc.
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
Robert Mapplethorpe's Calla Lily is part of a series of flower photographs taken by the artist throughout his career. Like his portraits, these images reflect his fascination with physical beauty and flaunt his technical facility in representing it. Here, Mapplethorpe isolates, lights, and crops the lily to emphasize its paradoxical combination of strength and ephemerality. (He commented in an interview, "I don't love flowers and I don't like having them," going on to explain that this was because he did not want to be responsible for their inevitable death). In this image, Mapplethorpe’s close cropping allows the lily to dominate the picture plane, dividing it both horizontally and vertically, and creates a stark juxtaposition of white and black tonalities. Mapplethorpe’s flowers are not as well-known as his more controversial subjects; however, they are often thought to be erotic. The form of the calla lily, for example, suggests both male and female sexuality with its rigid pistil and voluptuous petal, respectively.