Hans van Manen donates early Robert Mapplethorpe photographs to the Rijksmuseum

Hans van Manen, Taco Dibbits and Henk van Dijk with the donated Robert Mapplethorpe photographs. Photo: Jan-Kees Steenman/Rijksmuseum

The choreographer Hans van Manen and his husband are donating to the Rijksmuseum 24 works by the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989). They comprise 21 photographs including a self-portrait, two portraits of Hans van Manen himself, and homo-erotic work, as well as 3 porcelain plates featuring photographs of flowers. In a few years’ time these newly acquired works will be part of a major retrospective currently under preparation at the Rijksmuseum, on American photography from 1839 to the present day.

Hans van Manen: Donating these works now means I can enjoy doing so myself, in the knowledge that they will stay together for ever. I have been looking at them for 40 years; now other people will be able to enjoy them.

Taco Dibbits, director of the Rijksmuseum: We are deeply grateful to Hans van Manen and Henk van Dijk for their generous gift. Benefactors such as themselves enable museums to enrich their collections with great art that would otherwise be beyond their reach.


When Robert Mapplethorpe began photographing nudes in the mid-1970s, he did so with utter disregard for any presumed boundaries between the culturally sanctioned nude and images of shocking, hard and explicit gay and SM sex. He portrayed his own world, but rather than shooting live in situ he carefully staged the scenes in his studio. For Mapplethorpe, there was no separation of the realms of sex and art, and little difference between photographing a flower or a penis. His photographs are technically perfect, contrasting starkly with pornographic images, which up to that point was generally rather ‘grubby’ and poorly printed. In doing so, Mapplethorpe took pornography out of the underground scene and placed it on the established art and gallery circuits. His work has been an example for many, including the Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf.

Photography in the Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum photography collection comprises approximately 150,000 photographs shot in the 19th, 20th 21st centuries in the Netherlands and abroad. The museum aspires to represent through its collection the entire history of photography, with acknowledged masterpieces by pre-eminent photographers and through its use in the domains of advertising, fashion, journalism and science. The work of Mapplethorpe is indispensable in this endeavour. The Rijksmuseum collection currently includes just one photograph by the artist, a portrait of Patti Smith. Good Mapplethorpes fetch such high prices (and have been doing so for a long while) that they are beyond the reach of the museum unless they can be acquired through donation.

The Rijksmuseum photography collection came about through the support of the museum’s partner Baker McKenzie, private benefactors and international funds.

Click here to read our review of Nederlands Dans Theater’s SOIR HISTORIQUE which includes Van Manen’s 1970 piece SITUATION