The J. Paul Getty Museum

Calla Lily

Object Details


Calla Lily


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946 - 1989)




New York, New York, United States (Place Created)


negative 1988; print 1990


Gelatin silver print

Object Number:



49 × 49 cm (19 5/16 × 19 5/16 in.)


© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Credit Line:

Jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the David Geffen Foundation

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Object Description

My whole point is to transcend the subject...go beyond the subject somehow, so that the composition, the lighting, all around, reaches a certain point of perfection.
--Robert Mapplethorpe

Mapplethorpe's work, whether in his fashion or fine art photography, is distinguished by a tension between opposites. At the base of this image of a calla lily, he punctuates the wide planes of black and white with what seems a decadent surprise: the three-dimensional, curving lip of the flower's edge. He explores the effects of light as a painter might experiment with a palette of colors. At the top, the flower glows milky white, reminiscent of light seen through delicate alabaster or porcelain.

Mapplethorpe's spare compositions often showcase familiar subjects in unusual ways. Floral still lifes, for example, have long encouraged sexual interpretations, and especially here, given the artist's other work with erotic and sadomasochistic subjects. His imagination transformed and energized what some had considered a stale genre.

In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe (October 23, 2012 to March 24, 2013)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 23, 2012 to March 24, 2013
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium (March 15 to July 31, 2016)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 15 to July 31, 2016
Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium (September 10, 2016 to March 4, 2018)
  • Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Montréal), September 10, 2016 to January 22, 2017
  • Kunsthal Rotterdam, April 22 to August 27, 2017
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney), October 28, 2017 to March 4, 2018

Marshall, Richard. Robert Mapplethorpe, exh. cat. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with New York Graphic Society Books, 1988), p. 194.

Kardon, Janet. Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, exh. cat., 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 1989), p. 109.

Danto, Arthur C. Mapplethorpe (New York: Random House, 1992), pl. 291.

Celant, Germano. Mapplethorpe versus Rodin, exh. cat. (Milano: Electa, 1992), p. 93, pl. 47.

Celant, Germano. Mapplethorpe, exh. cat. (London: Hayward Gallery; Electa; SBC, 1992), p. 43, 301, ill.

Celant, Germano and Arkady Ippolitov. Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints, exh. cat. (Berlin: Deutsche Guggenheim; New York: D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2004), p. 41, pl. 93, ill.

Muschamp, Herbert. i Mapplethorpe: The Complete Flowers (Düsseldorf ; New York: teNeues, 2006), pl. 172.