This month's featured oil painting is Whistler's 'Portrait of the Artist's Mother'
British-based oil painter
and etcher. Averse to sentimentality in oil painting, he was a leading
proponent of the credo "art for art's sake". He took to signing
his paintings with a stylized butterfly, possessing a long stinger for a tail.
The symbol was apt, for Whistler's art work was characterized by a subtle
delicacy, in contrast to his combative public persona.
best known for the nearly monochromatic full-length figure titled Arrangement
in Gray and Black: Portrait of the Artist's Mother, but usually referred to
as Whistler's Mother. The oil painting was
later purchased by the French government. Though American, Whistler lived and
worked mainly in Britain
The oil painting
is 56.81 x 63.94 inches (144.3 x 162.4 cm), displayed in a frame of
Whistler's own design, and is now owned by the Musee d'Orsay
It occasionally tours worldwide. Although an icon of American art, it rarely
appears in the United States, having toured in 1932-1934, appeared at the National Gallery of Art in 1994 and the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2004. It appeared at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from June to
Anna McNeill Whistler posed for the oil
painting while living in London with her son. Several unverifiable stories surround the
making of the painting itself; one is that Anna Whistler acted as a replacement
for another model who couldn't make the appointment. Another is that Whistler
originally envisioned painting the model standing up, but that his mother was
too uncomfortable to pose standing for an extended period.
The art work
was shown at the 104th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of
Art in London
(1872), but first came within a hair's breadth of rejection by the Academy.
This episode worsened the rift between Whistler and the British art world; Arrangement
would be the last oil painting he would submit for the Academy's approval.