Other Finding Aids
Related Archival Materials
Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Robert Mapplethorpe papers and photographs
Date (inclusive): circa 1850-2011, bulk
317 Linear Feet
(311 boxes, 13 flatfile folders, 3 rolls)
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
Business Number: (310) 440-7390
Fax Number: (310) 440-7780
The papers and photographs of Robert
Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) span the artist's career, from his early drawings, collages and
jewelry to his renowned photographic work in the 1970s and 1980s. The photographic material
in the archive includes Polaroids, photographs, commercial commissions, test shots, and
non-editioned prints from the same photography sessions as his editioned prints. Also
included in the archive are films, personal and professional correspondence, studio
documents, interviews, clippings, exhibition files, financial records, and collected
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Language: Collection material is in
A key figure in late 20th-century photography, Robert Mapplethorpe created work with a
distinctive tension between opposites: sacred and profane, mainstream and underground, light
and dark. From his early Polaroid portraits, to his fashion photography and later
controversial work, Mapplethorpe's photographs are well-ordered and emotionally restrained,
with chaotic and sensuous elements beneath the surface. Born in Queens, New York in 1946,
Mapplethorpe studied graphic arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before dropping out in
1969. He met the musician, poet, and artist Patti Smith in 1967 and they lived together as
intimate and artistic partners until 1974. In 1972, Mapplethorpe met two influential
curators. John McKendry gave him his first Polaroid camera, with which he made
self-portraits and portraits of his friends and acquaintances in the art world. Samuel
Wagstaff, Jr. later became the artist's lover and mentor. By the mid-1970s, Mapplethorpe had
acquired a medium format camera and began photographing the world of New York's S & M
clubs. Mapplethorpe refined his style in the early 1980s to create elegant figure studies,
delicate floral still lifes, nudes, and celebrity portraits. His preference for simple
compositions and a sophisticated use of lighting to articulate subtleties of form
distinguished his mature work. His career was successfully championed by pioneering
photography dealer Harry Lunn, who, along with Robert Miller and Robert Self, published
portfolios of some of the artist's most challenging work. In the late 1980s and early 1990s,
Mapplethorpe's X Portfolio was at the center of an American culture war over whether public
monies should be used to underwrite art that some deemed obscene or blasphemous. In 1989, at
age 42, Mapplethorpe died from complications of AIDS. A year earlier, he established the
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which protects his work, promotes his legacy, and supports
the causes he believed in, such as art programs and HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
Other Finding Aids
A detailed inventory of the set "Portraits and Self-Portraits" (RMF number U331) in Boxes
19 and 20 can be found
and in Box 19.
Open for use by qualified researchers with the following exceptions. Polaroid test shots in
Series II.D. are currently being digitized and are unavailable until digitization is
complete. Audiovisual material is unavailable until it is reformatted. Several fragile items
are restricted pending conservation treatment, as indicated in the container list. Sensitive
material is sealed for the period of time indicated in the container list. Letters from
Patti Smith to Mapplethorpe are sealed for Smith's lifetime. This collection contains
content that may be offensive to some viewers and inappropriate for children.
Robert Mapplethorpe papers and photographs, circa 1850-2011 (bulk 1970-1989), The Getty
Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 2011.M.20.
Acquired in 2011.
Series I.A and I.B: Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to The J. Paul Getty Trust
and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Series I.C through Series IX: Gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
Sheila Prospero, Anne-Marie Walsh, Alexis Adkins, and Lilly Tsukahira processed, re-housed
and cataloged Series I.A. and Series I.B. from July-September 2011 under the supervision of
Beth Guynn. Revisions were completed by Annette Doss in 2012.
Zulay Chang processed, re-housed and cataloged Series I.C. and Series II from September
2011 to May 2012 under the supervision of Beth Guynn. Series I.C. was revised by Katie
Duvall and Annette Doss.
Portfolio facsimiles were assembled and described by Jade Finlinson in 2018.
With grant funding from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, Katie Duvall processed,
re-housed and cataloged Series I.D. through Series I.F., and Series III through Series IX
from November 2011 to November 2012 under the supervision of Annette Doss. Revisions after
November 2012 were done by Emmabeth Nanol.
Items in the following boxes require conservation treatment: box 26, 29-31, 49*, 52*, 54,
56, 59*, ff.3**.
Series I.A and Series I.B. have been digitized.
Connect to digital
Digital images are provided for study purposes only. Access to images
of works by artists other than Mapplethorpe is available only to on-site readers and Getty
A DVD of the documenatry
Robert Mapplethorpe (2006) by Paul Tschinkel was
added to the collection in January 2013 (DVD5).
Related Archival Materials
Over 2000 editioned prints and other works of art by Robert Mapplethorpe are held at the J.
Paul Getty Museum.
Additional Mapplethorpe materials are found in the Harry Lunn papers, 1971-1989, accession
Connect to finding
Scope and Content of Collection
The papers and photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe document the career of the prolific
artist from 1970 until his death in 1989 and his legacy in the following decades.
Encompassing the full range of Mapplethorpe's production, including newly-discovered early
drawings, assemblages, jewelry, little-known Polaroids, test shots, non-editioned prints,
commercial commissions, and films, the collection demonstrates Mapplethorpe's range of
technique and his commitment to a personal vision throughout his life. The archive also
provides documentation of Mapplethorpe's working processes and personal and professional
relationships through correspondence, studio records, interviews, clippings, ephemera,
exhibition files, and financial records.
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation maintained and added to the archive from 1989 to 2011.
These later additions include archival documents, ephemera and clippings collected by the
Foundation, as well as records generated by the Foundation in the course of its work
promoting Mapplethorpe's legacy with exhibitions and publications. Not included in the
archive are approximately 1,900 of Mapplethorpe's limited-edition prints and other works of
art housed at the J. Paul Getty Museum and jointly owned with the Los Angeles County Museum
Series I contains Mapplethorpe's creative output and the artworks he acquired from others.
Works by Mapplethorpe include photographs, Polaroids, three-dimensional objects, paintings,
and cut-outs. Most photographs are gelatin silver prints and are predominantly
self-portraits or portraits of Mapplethorpe's contemporaries. Works by other artists are
mostly photographs of Mapplethorpe, and some photographs also feature Patti Smith, Sam
Wagstaff, David Croland, Milton Moore, Jack Walls, Lisa Lyon, Francesco and Alba Clemente,
Nick Rhodes, and Keith Haring. Other photographs document Mapplethorpe's artworks and
jewelry designs. Also included are approximately 1000 non-editioned prints from the same
photo sessions as Mapplethorpe's editioned prints; commissioned and commercial work;
jewelry; films; and three portfolios featuring some of his earlier prints. Series II
documents how Mapplethorpe worked as a photographer. Included are over 3,000 Polaroids that
he took as test shots for his editioned prints, an index card inventory of 2,080 prints,
model release forms, shooting books that were used to record editioned print information,
and three spiral notebooks containing 418 Polaroid test shots.
Series III comprises photographs documenting Mapplethorpe's work. Included are gallery
installation shots, Polaroids, and slides. Series IV includes Mapplethorpe's personal and
professional correspondence with friends, models, clients, museums, galleries, and fans.
Correspondents include Sam Wagstaff, Lisa Lyon, John McKendry, and Patti Smith. (Note: All
letters from Patti Smith to Robert Mapplethorpe are sealed for Smith's lifetime.) Series V
contains files related to exhibitions that took place during Mapplethorpe's lifetime.
Documents include exhibition reports, press materials, ephemera, posters, and related
videos. In Series VI are several documentaries and interviews with Mapplethorpe and others.
Series VII contains fincancial and administrative records documenting Mapplethorpe's studio
operations. Series VIII consists of items from Mapplethorpe's personal photograph collection
of daguerreotypes, vintage pornography, ephemera, his zodiac chart, and other miscellaneous
Series IX comprises materials that the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation created and collected
after the artist's death in 1989. Files include correspondence with museums, galleries, and
publishers; exhibition files and administrative records; and 27 boxes of collected press
clippings related to the censorship controversy and trial in Cincinnati in the early 1990s.
Also included are videos of news footage and press coverage of the controversy.
Arranged in nine series:
Series I. Creative work, circa 1850-2009, undated;
Photographic practice, 1978-2000, undated;
Photographic documentation, circa 1969-circa 1989, undated;
Correspondence, 1969-1991, undated;
Exhibition files, 1977-1992, undated;
Interviews and documentaries, circa 1980-1989, undated;
Financial records,1964-1995, undated;
Collections and personal items, circa 1880-1989, undated;
Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, 1989-2011, undated.
Subjects - Names
Wagstaff, Samuel J., Jr.,
Subjects - Topics
Bodybuilders -- Photographs
Artists -- United States -- Correspondence
Censorship -- United States -- History -- 20th century
Portrait photography -- United States -- 20th century
Flowers -- Photographs
Artists -- United States -- 20th century
Photographers -- United States -- 20th century
Sadomasochism -- Photographs
Women bodybuilders -- Photographs
Sadomasochism in art
Photography of the nude
Fetishism in art
African American men -- Photographs
Celebrities -- Portraits
Gay men -- Photographs
Genres and Forms of Material
Collages (visual works) -- 20th century
Drawings -- United States -- 20th century
Gelatin silver prints -- United States -- 20th century
Assemblages (sculpture) -- United States -- 20th century
DVDs -- United States -- 20th century
Experimental films -- United States -- 20th century
Dye difussion transfer prints -- United States -- 20th
Diffusion transfer prints -- United States -- 20th century
Portraits -- United States -- 20th century
Posters -- United States -- 20th century
Videotapes -- United States -- 20th century
Wagstaff, Samuel J., Jr.,