Robert Mapplethorpe - ULTIMATE Evening & Photographs Day Sales London Thursday, May 17, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The Piero Bisazza Collection, Italy

  • Literature

    S. Wolf, Polaroids: Mapplethorpe, Munich: Prestel, 2013, pl. 88, p. 38, dated 1973-1975

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘He was the artist of my life.’

    Patti Smith

    Patti Smith was the first person Robert Mapplethorpe photographed and the only person he photographed more than himself. Mapplethorpe and Smith first met in 1967. As lovers and then as friends, they supported each other through developments in their creative pursuits. In 1970 Mapplethorpe first picked up a Polaroid camera when he borrowed one from fellow artist and Chelsea Hotel neighbour Sandy Daley. ‘I was Robert’s first model and he was his second,’ Smith recalls in her memoir Just Kids. ‘The settings and options were limited but it was technically simple and he needed no light meter.’ While early on Mapplethorpe economised on food in order to buy Polaroid film at $3 a pack, in 1971, John McKendry, then Curator of Photography at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchased Mapplethorpe his own Polaroid camera and helped the artist to obtain a grant from Polaroid via their Artist Support Program for unlimited film.

    The bulk of Mapplethorpe's Polaroids were taken in 1970-75 and it was during this time that he first discovered his love for photography. ‘I never anticipated Robert’s complete surrender to its powers. I had encouraged him to take photographs to integrate into his collages and installations,’ Smith writes, ‘but Robert shifted his focus, the photograph was not a means to an end, but the object itself.’ Mapplethorpe’s Polaroids provide a fascinating insight into his early experimentation with light, composition and representations of the body, which would become the foundation of his later work.

    In the Polaroid offered here, Patti Smith is partly blurred, caught mid-turn, but her eyes remain fixed on Mapplethorpe, her soulmate. According to Smith, Mapplethorpe ‘saw more in me than I could see in myself. Whenever he peeled away the image from the Polaroid negative, he would say, “With you I can’t miss.”’ From the very beginning of his appreciation for this instant medium, he photographed his friend, muse and lover Patti Smith, capturing the intimacy that transcended their relationship. The present lot is the only Polaroid by Mapplethorpe in the Piero Bisazza Collection.

    Please refer to lots 152 – 172 for Polaroids from the Piero Bisazza Collection in the Photographs Day Sale.

  • Artist Biography

    Robert Mapplethorpe

    American • 1946 - 1989

    After studying drawing, painting and sculpture at the Pratt Institute in the 1960s, Robert Mapplethorpe began experimenting with photography while living in the notorious Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith. Beginning with Polaroids, he soon moved on to a Hasselblad medium-format camera, which he used to explore aspects of life often only seen behind closed doors.

    By the 1980s Mapplethorpe's focus was predominantly in the studio, shooting portraits, flowers and nudes. His depiction of the human form in formal compositions reflects his love of classical sculpture and his groundbreaking marriage of those aesthetics with often challenging subject matter. Mapplethorpe's style is present regardless of subject matter — from erotic nudes to self-portraits and flowers — as he ceaselessly strove for what he called "perfection of form."

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ULTIMATE Polaroids from the Piero Bisazza Collection


Untitled (Patti Smith)

Unique Polaroid print.
Image: 11.2 x 8.8 cm (4 3/8 x 3 1/2 in.)
Sheet: 14.5 x 10.6 cm (5 3/4 x 4 1/8 in.)

Annotated 'PD 392' in another hand in pencil on the verso.

This work is unique.

£10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for £16,250

Contact Specialist
Genevieve Janvrin
Co-Head of Photographs, Europe
+33 1 53 71 77 87

Yuka Yamaji
Co-Head of Photographs, Europe
+44 20 7318 4098

ULTIMATE Evening & Photographs Day Sales

London Auction 18 May 2018