Revealed (again): Mapplethorpe's model
Sunday 15 September 1996
Rosie Bowdrey was three years old when Mapplethorpe photographed her in 1976 at Biddick House, the home of her grandfather, the disgraced former Tory minister Lord Lambton. The picture shows her sitting on a stone pew, wearing a gingham dress, legs open, looking slightly startled into the camera, with part of her genitalia in view.
Last week the Hayward Gallery removed the photograph, entitled "Rosie", from its forthcoming Mapplethorpe exhibition after taking advice from the police. Children's charities expressed concern and Esther Rantzen, the founder of Childline, condemned it as "utterly horrific" and "child pornography".
But yesterday Ms Bowdrey, who is now 22, said she was planning to hang a copy of the picture in the London restaurant where she works, as a gesture of defiance.
"I think this is all so stupid, everyone should see this picture," she said, "and people like Esther Rantzen should see it before making any comment."
The day the photograph was taken was one of celebration, scorching hot weather - and childhood innocence, she said. "We were holding a garden party and Robert was a guest of my mother and aunt," she said. "I had just been swimming and there were lots of other children, including my older sister Honey, running around too. When I came from the pool my mother chased me to make me put on a dress - Robert took the picture just after that."
Immediately afterwards, she said, the dress came off. "I always say that the only unnatural thing about that photo was that I was wearing a dress - in fact there are very few pictures of me under the age of five where I am fully clothed. It's probably the same with many other children - I'm sure Esther Rantzen has got pictures of her children in the nude."
Mapplethorpe took several other photographs of the Lambton family and the Bowdrey girls that day, including another picture of Rosie with Honey, taken in long grass that obscures their nudity.
Rosie has kept a silver gelatin print of that photograph, but has given her only copy of "Rosie" to her female lover Benny Neville, with whom she co-runs Tabac, an eclectic Notting Hill eaterie. She will, however, keep a portrait of her by Lucien Freud which is currently in progress.
The scandal surrounding the picture is old news to Rosie and her family. Five years ago a gallery in Cincinnati refused to show it until Rosie's mother, Lady Beatrix Nevill, signed an affidavit stating that the photograph was taken with her full consent, that she did not view it as pornographic, and that it should be shown. She did and it was.
Last year the same happened in New Zealand and eventually the picture was shown there too. The photograph has also been published in the1985 Mapplethorpe book Certain People: A Book Of Portraits, which also features photographs of her aunts, Rose and Isabella Lambton.
Rosie Bowdrey became aware of her famous photograph at the age of 11, when the Certain People book came out. She loved it on sight. "It is a very, very sweet picture, it captures childhood innocence. I can understand why people think I look startled. I have big eyes, and a mouth that naturally turns down, but I can't understand why people think it is pornographic. People are just plain scared of all the issues it raises - if it had been a small boy, maybe this furore would be justified; Robert wasn't interested in girls anyway."
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