Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of Artist’s Mother (Painting Of The Week)

Impressionism

James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of Artist’s Mother (Painting Of The Week)

This is one of the most famous works by an American artist outside the United States. It has been variously described as an American icon and a Victorian Mona Lisa. Today we will talk about “The Artist’s Mother”, also known as “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1” by James McNeill Whistler.

James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of the Artist's Mother, 1871, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1871, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Anna McNeill Whistler posed for the painting while living in London with her son at Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Anna was a literate and well-travelled woman. In 1831 she married Major Whistler and until his death from cholera in 1849 they enjoyed an affluent lifestyle in Russia with their children. After her husband’s death, Anna wore black for the rest of her life.

Anna Whistler circa 1850s.

Anna Whistler circa 1850s.


There are couple of legends regarding this portrait. One is that Anna Whistler acted as a replacement for another model who couldn’t make the appointment. Another one says that Whistler originally envisioned painting the model standing up, but that his mother was too uncomfortable to pose standing for an extended period.

James McNeill Whistler, National Gallery of Victoria

James McNeill Whistler, National Gallery of Victoria

Whistler intended the painting to be a study in colour and form, and its subject matter and often minimal, even abstract, paint application worked to defy traditional expectations of narrative art. The artist used a variety of techniques: his mother’s darkly coloured dress is painted thinly, while his treatment of her hands and face (with areas of pink and yellow) is luminous, showing his care in building up colours to illuminate and animate his subject.


The work was shown at the 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Art in London in 1872, after coming within a hair’s breadth of rejection by the Academy. Arrangement was the last painting he submitted for the Academy’s approval.

Whistler eventually pawned the painting, which was acquired in 1891 by Paris’ Musée du Luxembourg. The image has been used since the Victorian era, especially in the United States, as an icon for motherhood, affection for parents, and “family values” in general. For example, in 1934 the U.S. Post office issued a stamp engraved with a stylized image of Whistler’s Mother, accompanied by the slogan “In Memory and In Honor of the Mothers of America.” 

The portrait has been the subject of many, often humorous, parodies in which the mother, or the object of her gaze, has been altered. This only testifies how important this painting is in the modern culture.

James Whistler. Whistler's Mother with the cat from "Famous Paintings improved by cats"

Whistler’s Mother with the cat from “Famous Paintings improved by cats”


 

Art Historian, founder and CEO of DailyArtMagazine.com and DailyArt mobile app. But to be honest, her greatest accomplishment is being the owner of Pimpek the Cat.

Comments

More in Impressionism

  • 19th Century

    6 Highlights from the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin

    By

    Let’s explore some highlights from the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin, the preeminent collection of 19th century art in Germany. The gallery was founded in 1861 after a bequest by banker Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener. He requested that the paintings in the collection be publicly displayed. The...

  • 19th Century

    5 Things You Need to Know About Australian Impressionism

    By

    Australian Impressionism might not be as well known as its French counterpart, but this late 19th century art movement was important to the country. In fact, some consider these artists to be part of the first truly Australian art movement. Australian Impressionists sought to capture the...

  • Art Travels

    Monet: Using the Home and Garden as Inspiration

    By

    We are currently confined to the spaces of our homes and gardens. Claude Monet used his beautiful home and garden in Giverny, France as the source for many of his paintings. We can all learn from the way that he recreated nature to produce some of...

  • 19th Century

    When the Arts Meet: Art Inspired Album Covers

    By

    If music is the soul of an album then the art on the cover must be its body. The choice of artwork for an album cover is an important one because at a glance it conveys the style and atmosphere of the music. Usually musicians commission...

  • cover cover

    19th Century

    Negligee Fashion: Top 5 Gorgeous Homewear Outfits in Art

    By

    Due to quarantine, homewear fashion is popular once again. But don’t think that boudoir fashion was unpopular before this. As art shows, from the second part of the mid 18th century, negligee fashion becomes mainstream! Because dressing up took plenty of time and visitors could arrive...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy