“Whistler’s Mother” by James McNeill Whistler
“Whistler’s Mother” by James McNeill Whistler depicts the painter’s mother, Anna McNeill Whistler. Its title is “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1” but is best known by its colloquial name “Whistler’s Mother”. It is one of the most famous works by an American artist. The painting has been featured in posters and stamps or mentioned in many works of fiction and within pop culture.
An example is a Canadian War recruitment poster that urges men to enlist with the Irish Canadian Rangers and to fight for the women in their own lives. Based on Whistler’s painting of his mother, it appeals to notions of motherhood and family values that were popular at the time and often attributed to this picture.
The image has been used as an icon for motherhood, affection for parents, and “family values” in general. In 1934 the U.S. Post office issued a stamp engraved with a stylised image of Whistler’s Mother, accompanied by the slogan:
“In Memory and In Honor of the Mothers of America.”
“Whistler’s Mother” Stamp issued in 1934
James Whistler painted during the American Gilded Age and based primarily in the United Kingdom. He was a leading proponent of the credo “art for art’s sake”, and his famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger for a tail.
Explore other Popular Painting
- Does this painting still appeal to notions of motherhood and family values?
- Why was this painting rejected by the English Arts establishment, but accepted by the French?
- Title: Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1
- Popular Title: Whistler’s Mother
- Artist: James McNeill Whistler
- Year: 1871
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions Height: 144.3 cm (56.8 in). Width: 162.4 cm (63.9 in).
- Museum: Musée d’Orsay, Paris
James McNeill Whistler
- Name: James Abbott McNeill Whistler
- Born: 1834 -Lowell, Massachusetts, US
- Died: 1903 (aged 69) – London, England, UK
- Nationality: American
- Movement: Founder of Tonalism
- Notable works:
- Whistler’s Mother
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
– Vincent van Gogh
Photo Credit: 1) James Abbott McNeill Whistler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Hal Ross Perrigard, Harris Lithographing Co. Ltd [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By US Post Office (US Post Office) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons