The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2016 > Robert Mapplethorpe: The Magic in the Muse

Robert Mapplethorpe: The Magic in the Muse

28 November - 24 April 2016

The Bowes Museum was pleased to present the work of renowned American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The works in the exhibition were drawn from the collection of ARTIST ROOMS, owned by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, which holds one of the most significant collections of Mapplethorpe’s photographs in the world. 

Mapplethorpe (1946–89) is known for a vast, provocative and powerful body of work which has established him as one of the most important artists of the late twentieth century. His exquisitely composed black and white photographs are remarkable as much for their technical virtuosity as for their sometimes controversial subject matter.  His work has often been described as a unique combination of beauty and salaciousness. 

Portraiture was central to his creative output, and Mapplethorpe established his reputation in the 1970s and 80s with photographs of his circle of friends and contemporaries from the New York cultural scene– artists, musicians, socialites, and members of the New York underground. The exhibition, which opened at The Bowes Museum on 28 November 2015, concentrated on the concepts of musicians, artists and classical poses and feature a selection of portraits of these influential figures, including Iggy Pop, Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Mapplethorpe’s close companion, singer and poet, Patti Smith,

It opened up a dialogue between the work and contemporary society’s increasing fascination with celebrity culture, the concept of the growing sense of the self, and the powers of advertising and self-promotion through imagery. It also highlighted connections between the art of the photographic and the painted portrait by referencing specific works found in The Bowes Museum’s permanent collection.

Mapplethorpe explored a range of subject matter and themes in his work: from intimate self-portraits and studio portraits of artists and celebrities, to celebrated studies of the human figure, and beautifully composed still lifes – images that sought perfection in form, simultaneously challenging and adhering to classical aesthetic standards. 

The works on display were taken from ARTIST ROOMS, an inspirational collection of modern and contemporary art acquired for the nation by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in 2008 through the generosity of Anthony d'Offay with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Scottish and British Governments. The ARTIST ROOMS tour programme showed at 17 museums and galleries across the UK in 2015. The tour was supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and through the continued support of the Art Fund.

D’Offay’s vision for ARTIST ROOMS was that great modern and contemporary art would be available to audiences nationwide, especially to young people to inspire creativity. Continuing with this theme The Bowes Museum wanted to engage young audiences through a series of events linked to the exhibition in order to inspire new audiences and create a greater appreciation and understanding of Mapplethorpe’s work and the Museum’s own collections. 

Information on both the ARTIST ROOMS collection and the touring programme can be found at For further information about ARTIST ROOMS On Tour please visit To see the full ARTIST ROOMS collection please visit and

Related Events

Short Photography Courses - Run by Ian West
Portraits & still lives, 23 January, 2.00 - 4.45
How to get the most from your camera phone, 20 February, 2.00-4.45
Photographing musicians/intro to music video making, 19 March, 2.00-4.45

Song Writing Workshops - Run by Martin Longstaff
30 January, 27 February, 19 March, 2.00 - 4.45
Feel free to come to just one or two, or come to all three and see how your skills develop over the weeks.   At the final session, we will aim to link up with the photography course and see if we can capture some of the magic of the muse, just like Mapplethorpe did!

Image Credit

1. AR00225 
Robert Mapplethorpe
Self Portrait (1980)
Photograph, gelatine silver print on paper
support: 340 x 341 mm frame: 686 x 659 x 28 mm
on paper, print
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008

The Bowes Museum grounds are open!

Due to the government announcement on Thursday 17 December, that County Durham is to remain in COVID tier 3 restrictions, The Bowes Museum unfortunately will remain closed to all visitors. However, the grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 - 4.00 daily, and we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, two spring trails and outdoor guided tours are available from 29 March 2021.

As we have already been shut for a number of weeks and there is much uncertainty around possible further restrictions, we have decided to use this period to undertake some work in Café Bowes, alongside performing some much-needed structural repairs to the building, notably to the windows. January and February are usually quieter times for the Museum, often due to severe weather, so we believe that this is the best time to carry out such works with the least amount of disruption to our visitors.

We have therefore decided to remain closed for a period of four weeks following any near-future tier 2 announcement from the government, as this will allow us time to deep clean the Museum prior to reopening our doors once again. We will, of course, keep you updated as the guidelines change.

Your ongoing support during these unprecedented times is hugely appreciated and we very much look forward to welcoming you back into the building as early as possible in 2021.

We hope to be able to offer a few COVID-safe outdoor events over the coming months, about which we shall make further announcements as soon as possible.