Thoughts & life experiences of a Chicago area graphic artist

31 August 2017

How the official title of "Whistler's Mother" heralded Abstract Art.

My sister Alicia (left) went with me to view the historic painting. Sorry for the glare on the glass.
The painting historic significance of what is most popularly known as "Whistler's Mother" lies in that it's official name is Arrangement in Grey and Black No. I (Portrait of the Artist’s Mother). The artist's decision to give the painting that title is a striking 1st step toward abstract art.

Another important note is that this classic American painting is owned by France. It had not been to Chicago for over 60 years.

Below is the Art Institute's Commentary that was displayed at the exhibit:

An American Icon Returns to Chicago

In 1871 James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834—1903) created Arrangement in Grey and Black No. I (Portrait of the Artist’s Mother) —a pivotal work that marked a shift away from the artist’s more realistic style to an increased embrace of abstraction. This change is reflected in his application of thinned down paint and his use of titles. Drawn from musical terminology, works like arrangement emphasized the formal properties of art over its subject matter.

Indeed, as Whistler himself wrote about the breakthrough painting, “Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black.’ Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother, but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?

Despite Whistler’s intentions, the reception of the painting could not be divorced from its sitter, and was soon better known as “Whistler’s Mother.” Initially met with puzzlement, it was eventually heralded, spurring a staggering quantity of critical interpretations, reproductions, and pop culture references.

Acquired by the French state in 1891, the work has only occasionally been exhibited in the United States. Its status as an icon of American motherhood gained momentum over the course of the 20th century, beginning with its touch of the country in 1933. Now, more than 60 years since it was last exhibited in Chicago, Whistler’s masterpiece returns to the Art Institute, where it is shown in the context of the artist’s use of family members as subjects and his abstract treatment of genres like portraiture and landscape. 

 --> See more of my photos of the Whistler Exhibit on my Flickr site.

No comments: