Famous Artwork: Whistler's Mother

Editorial credit: Zoltan Katona / Shutterstock.com. A stamp from the UAE depicts Whistler's Mother, circa 1967.
Editorial credit: Zoltan Katona / Shutterstock.com. A stamp from the UAE depicts Whistler's Mother, circa 1967.

Whistler’s Mother is an oil on canvas painting made in 1871 by James McNeil Whistler. Originally known as Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, the painting depicts Anna McNeil who supposedly stood in for a model who failed to show up. Anna is seated with her hands clasped on her lap while staring steadily at apparently nothing. In the painting, Whistler uses grays and blacks to imply the tone of the painting. Anna is believed to be one of the most adoring fans of his son’s work, stating what enjoyment she drew from posing for Whistler’s paintings. Besides working on the painting, Whistler designed a frame for the painting which still holds the painting today.

James McNeil Whistler

Born in 1834, James Whistler was an American painter and founder of the Tonalism art movement who from an early age displayed an interest in drawing. He joined the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in 1845 where he learned traditional drawings. In addition to the curriculum, Whistler intensely studied the techniques and art forms from other artists. After his father’s death, he enrolled in a military academy at the west point where he was disqualified for his poor grades. In 1855, Whistler settled in Paris where he furthered his studies in art. His movement to France became the turning point for his art career by allowing him to interact with other artists and artworks. His popularity rose in the 1860s following his painting Symphony in White, No. 1. Whistler died in 1903 in London, England.


After completing the painting, Whistler submitted the work to The Royal Academy who begrudgingly accepted it and hung it at a disgraced location. The Musée du Luxembourg purchased the painting in 1891, changing its future for the better. The painting stayed at the great museum until 1922 when the painting was transferred to the Louvre. The Musée d’Orsay in Paris has been the permanent home of the painting since 1966. The painting is available for display at other top museums around the world.

Legacy and Financial Worth

Whistler’s Mother has earned its place in art and has been classed with other great masterpieces such as the Scream and Mona Lisa. Despite the rejection and poor reception of the painting in England, Whistler’s Mother gained prominence in other countries and was displayed in the Musée du Luxembourg. At the time of its release, the painting was criticized as a symbol of grief and mourning due to the dark and somber color choices. Regardless, the painting is highly appreciated amongst the American community and is an influence in many spheres. Whistler’s Mother is seen as a representation of motherhood, children’s affection, and appreciation for their parents, and family values of the 19th century. In celebration of motherhood, replicas of the same have been made in many places as well as other art pieces such as the Mother’s Memorial Ashland. Whistler’s Mother has featured in other artistic works such as films, works of literature, and music. Whistler’s Mother is the property of the French government and is not for sale. However, the painting is loaned to other museums abroad that wish to display the world icon.


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