- Robert Mapplethorpe 1946–1989
- Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
- Support: 476 x 471 mm
frame: 816 x 784 x 30 mm
- Tate / National Galleries of Scotland
- ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
This black and white photograph shows a young girl holding a stuffed toy rabbit. Set before a black background, the girl is smiling slightly. She is clothed in a dark dress with a white lace collar, and wears a black hat. Her hair is arranged in plaited pigtails with spotted ribbons at the end of each braid. Only her left hand is visible, and it is this hand that holds the toy rabbit. Her hand and face are bright – almost white – and stand in contrast to the black and dark grey shades that comprise the majority of the photograph. The subject of the image is Eva Amurri, the daughter of Italian film director Franco Amurri and the American actress Susan Sarandon.
Mapplethorpe made this portrait along with six others in 1988 to accompany an interview he gave for Vanity Fair. Around this time Mapplethorpe was receiving little publicity and was therefore looking for outlets for his work, as his biographer Patricia Morrisroe notes (Morrisroe 1995, p.351). He was also seriously ill with AIDS, which he had learned he had contracted in 1986. Morrisroe writes that Mapplethorpe ‘needed something to look forward to’ (Morrisroe 1995, p.351). The Vanity Fair article, entitled ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’s Long Good-Bye’, was published in January 1988, and the artist’s health, rather than his work, was very much the focus of the piece.
Eva Amurri shows its subject looking hopeful and happy. With her stuffed rabbit toy and joyful eyes, there is a sense of innocence in the sitter, highlighted by the contrast drawn between the heavy black of the dress and background and the sitter’s bright complexion. In contrast to the hopeful outlook of this photograph, the subject of death appears to have been prominent in Mapplethorpe’s mind at this time as his health deteriorated. In the same year he also made several photographs incorporating distinctly morbid motifs: Skull (Tate AR00223) is a photograph of a human skull, while Self Portrait (Tate AR00496) shows Mapplethorpe holding a cane with a model skull fixed to its top. As stated by the art historian Germano Celant, ‘The portent of these photographs is chilling’ (Celant 1992, p.63). Yet, Celant continued, in these works Mapplethorpe ‘refuses to be affected by fear or weakness, he remains interested in the experience of this new transformation’ (Celant 1992, p.64). Eva Amurri is perhaps an extension of Mapplethorpe’s desire to examine the subject of death; it suggests a keenness to document the cycle of existence and to explore the beginning of life as well as its end.
Mapplethorpe took another photograph of Eva Amurri in 1988 in which the sitter appears nude (see Eva Amurri 1988, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), as well as a photograph of Eva and her mother, also taken in 1988, entitled Eva Amurri and Susan Sarandon (reproduced in Joan Didion, Some Women: Robert Mapplethorpe, London 1989, p.61). His photographs Honey 1976 (Tate AR00157) and Lindsay Key 1985 (Tate AR00158) are further examples of work in which children feature as photographic subjects. In the same vein as Eva Amurri, many of these photographs portray their subjects with a vivacious, animated quality. These works stand in contrast to much of Mapplethorpe’s other photography – images such as Derrick Cross 1983 (Tate AR00194) – in which the adult male form is depicted in an eroticised, sculptural manner.
Richard Marshall, Robert Mapplethorpe, London 1988.
Germano Celant, Mapplethorpe, New York 1992, p.64.
Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe: A Biography, London 1995, pp.351–62.
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