Robert Mapplethorpe


Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 - 1989) helped elevate photography to be included as fine art in the 1970's thanks to his uncompromising images rich in contrasts from beautiful to brutal and elegant to uninhibited.

Mapplethorpe’s career was as glittering as it was controversial. Feted and vilified in equal measure, he ran a successful commercial studio (for portraiture and fashion photography) while simultaneously producing some of the most contentious (and beautiful!) images of the 20th century.

His depictions of gay sexuality (including S&M and bondage) provoked a fierce backlash both at the time of their creation and well into the 1990's and beyond. 

This unique polaroid dates from the period where Mapplethorpe begins to focus on pure photography, abandoning the collages of the first chapter of his career. It is also a foreshadowing of his curiosity and pursuit of New York's S&M scene.

While the subject matter may seem evocative of Mapplethorpe's work, it is worth emphasizing that he doesn't focus on S&M images until the late 1970's.

His process at the beginning of the decade is also different from his mature period. By the mid 70's he transitions to silver gelatin prints and shoots almost exclusively in a controlled studio setting. In this image, the wrinkled bed linens are an important compositional element, just as is the proximity of the lens to the subject. 

In this tightly framed image, there is also an ambiguity of what the viewer is seeing. Are we looking at one body or two? Is the arm holding the whip from the same body with the exposed bottom? In later S&M related images Mapplethorpe's lens maintains a consistent distance from the subject. Here the photographer is so close to the body, he is almost a part of the activity. 

As the decade progressed, Mapplethorpe commented on his images of sexuality: ‚ÄėI don‚Äôt like that particular word ‚Äúshocking‚ÄĚ. I‚Äôm looking for the unexpected. I‚Äôm looking for things I‚Äôve never seen before‚Ķ I was in a position to take those pictures. I felt an obligation to do them.‚Äô

Mapplethorpe material created prior to 1974 is quite rare, as are his early Polaroids. Caviar20 is proud to be offering this evocative and unique print. 

Questions about this artwork? Contact us or call +1.416.704.1720

"Untitled" (Whip)

USA, 1972

Unique polaroid.

Annotated 'PD 963' in pencil in an unknown hand on the verso. 

3.7‚ÄĚH 2.8‚ÄĚW (image)

15"H 8"W (framed)


Provenance: Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels

With a gallery label bearing information about the work in facsimile affixed to the back of the frame. 

Very good condition. Detailed condition report by request 

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