Art & History

Whistler’s Mother – James McNeill Whistler | Paintings & Facts

Whistler’s Mother | Painting & Facts

Whistler’s Mother, is a painting in oils on canvas created by the American-born painter James McNeill Whistler in 1871. The subject of the painting is Whistler’s mother, Anna McNeill Whistler.

The painting is displayed in a frame of Whistler’s own design. It is exhibited in and held by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, having been bought by the French state in 1891. It 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.

Whistler's Mother

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Museum Display!

FACTS ABOUT PAINTING

  • IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK. 

    Measuring in at 56.8 inches by 64.2 inches, Whistler’s mother is almost life-size within the frame. 

  • WHISTLER DIDN’T CALL THE PIECE WHISTLER’S MOTHER. 

    Following in a theme of naming his paintings like musical compositions, Whistler dubbed this portrait Arrangement in Grey and Black – Portrait of the Painter’s Mother.

    Eventually, it became known as Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. Whistler’s Mother is a nickname popularized by the public.

  • THE PAINTING GOT POLITICAL DURING WORLD WAR I. 

    In 1915, the painting was co-opted by the Irish Canadian Rangers 199th Overseas Battalion to encourage volunteers to enlist. 

  • IT’S ALSO WHISTLER’S FRAME. 

    The artist designed the frame himself. Its golden hue reflects the modest gold wedding band on his mother’s finger. 

  • IT HAS BECOME ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS AMERICAN WORKS ABROAD. 

    Described as the Victorian Mona Lisa, Whistler’s Mother has become so iconic and so ubiquitous in global culture that it has been favorably compared to The Scream, Mona Lisa, and American Gothic.

  • T HAS BOUNCED AROUND A BIT SINCE THEN. 

    Though it has occasionally crossed the sea for American exhibitions, Whistler’s Mother has been the property of the French Government for over a century.

    But its home within France has shifted. In 1922, the painting moved from the Luxembourg to the Louvre. Sixty four years later, the popular portrait settled in the Musée d’Orsay, where it can still be found today.

  • WHISTLER’S MOTHER ORIGINALLY STOOD. 

    Standing still for long stretches proved difficult for the aging lady, and she later wrote to her sister, “I stood bravely, two or three days, whenever he was in the mood for studying me as his pictures are studies, and I so interested stood as a statue!

    But realized it to be too great an effort, so my dear patient Artist who is gently patient as he is never wearying in his perseverance concluding to paint me sitting perfectly at my ease.” 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Phil

    November 29, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Wow! So much I didn’t know about this great piece. Very informative and impressive article.

    • Admin

      November 29, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Thanks!

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