Whistler's mother was aware of her son's love of art. But she still wanted the young man to go to military school, so as to have a career, and not shame the family name.
He forgave her, as sons invariably do.
James McNeill Whistler's "Arrangement in Gray & Black No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist's Mother)" is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago for another month—the 1871 painting goes back to the Musee d'Orsay on June 11.
|"Napoleon's Mother" by Antonio Canova|
Having just written about why the Mona Lisa is famous, it would be worthwhile to consider why Whistler's Mother, as it is commonly called, is also iconic. It was immediately popular, which helps: Swinburne praised it. Thomas Carlyle commissioned Whistler to paint his own portrait after seeing it.
Always a francophile, Whistler quipped, after the nation bought painting in 1891, that now he truly was a son of France now that the nation "owned his mother."
In popular culture, she became motherhood personified. Or perhaps, rather, idealized. Maybe because the woman seems so placid, so pleasant, calm, silent, in repose, not glaring angrily at the viewer, but looking placidly away. Who we would all like our mothers to be, at least at times. The artist, who considered this one of his best paintings, agreed that his mother looks swell here. "Yes," he once said. "One does like to make one's mummy just as nice as possible."