“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. It has also been referenced 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 stylized 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 Abbott McNeill Whistler
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) was an American artist active during the American Gilded Age and based primarily in the United Kingdom. He was averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, and was a leading proponent of the credo “art for art’s sake.”
He found a parallel between painting and music and entitled many of his paintings “arrangements,” “harmonies,” and “nocturnes,” emphasizing the primacy of tonal harmony. Whistler influenced the art world and the broader culture of his time with his artistic theories and his friendships with leading artists and writers.
His famous signature for his paintings was in the shape of a stylized butterfly possessing a long stinger for a tail.
- 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:
A Tour of the Musée d’Orsay
- “The Starry Night Over the Rhône” by Vincent van Gogh
- “A Cart on the Snowy Road at Honfleur” by Claude Monet
- “The Basin at Argenteuil” by Claude Monet
- “Farmyard in Normandy” by Claude Monet
- “Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- “Olympia” by Édouard Manet
- “Whistler’s Mother” by James McNeill Whistler
- “The Quai Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame” by Maximilien Luce
- The Balcony by Édouard Manet
- Country Dance by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- The Cock Fight by Jean-Léon Gérôme
- “London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog” by Claude Monet
- “La Gare Saint-Lazare” by Claude Monet
- “The Seine and Notre-Dame in Paris” by Johan Jongkind
- “Blue Water Lilies” by Claude Monet
- “The Circus” by Georges Seurat
- Dancers by Pierre Bonnard
- “The Ball” by James Tissot
- 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?
“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”
– James Abbott McNeill Whistler
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