James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the American painter who chose to live abroad most of his adult life, was a skilled portrait artist and printmaker. Whistler’s fame is derived from many chance happenings which were all bound by the artist’s unconventional studio process and his seemingly driven desire to magnify his vision and create. Six years after the cessation of hostilities known as the American Civil War, the American artist living abroad succeeded in painting a masterpiece. The artist himself was quite pleased with his vision of his ailing mother and deeply satisfied with his effort directed to her portrait. When he finished with his labors on the portrait, Whistler set his brushes down, turned toward this mother and said, “Oh mother, it is masterful and beautiful”.
It is admirable that Whistler was pleased with his effort of capturing more than just his mother’s likeness—after all the artist’s gaze had to overcome a lot of challenges as she was ailing while she posed for three months seated for her son— which is due in no small degree to the artist’s driven skill-set and his driven personality to work so diligently. Whistler tells us quiet clearly about his work ethic and vision in his journals and diaries with comments such as the following: “To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano…Work alone will efface the footsteps of work…An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.”
What are your thoughts on the artist’s 1871 vision of his mother? Does this painting deserve being iconic and globally famous?
James Whistler, Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1871