Tuesday, May 10, 2011
James McNeil Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist's Mother, 1871. Oil on canvas, 56.8" x 63.9" (144.3 x 162.4 cm). Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
Commonly referred to as "Whistler's Mother," this painting is perhaps one of the least warm and loving images of motherhood but, a staple in the world of art nonetheless. Whistler was an American born artist who was trained in France, and then spent most of his adult life in England. This painting was not originally meant to be a portrait of his mother at all but another model. When she fell ill his mother was a quick replacement; however, she did not stand as originally intended because of her advanced years and her frailty.
So why do we find this simple seated profile of an aged woman so fascinating? Perhaps it is the dignity with which he painted her, reflecting her strong Protestant values. Or possibly it is the varying techniques he used to render multiple textures (lace, handkerchief, curtains, dress, flesh, and so forth). Whatever the reason may be, intellectual or otherwise, the painting still remains in our collective subconscious, even making its way into popular culture in many different formats. One of the most recent inclusions of "Whistler's Mother" in that vein is the film Bean (1997) starring Rowan Atkinson as the bumbling title character who rarely speaks yet, still manages to ruin this famed painting. If you are a conservator of paintings beware, this video may give you some serious heart palpitations indeed.
May inspiration and creativity be with you!