Where to see it
James McNeill Whistler
Why we love it
This work became the first American work of art purchased by the French state and remains the most important American work to reside outside the United States.
The painting represents the apogee of Whistler’s radical method of modulating unique color tones with a simplicity that has captivated viewers for nearly 150 years. The artist began to give his paintings lyrical titles such as “Nocturne”, “Harmony” and “Symphony”, “Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1” being one of the earliest examples and one of the most famous.
Whistler’s mother becomes the “Victorian Mona Lisa”, “A mother is the most sacred thing there is” everyone has a mother, and almost half of everyone becomes a mother. It became a national icon for the traditional understanding of family values and a stamp was even issued with a stylized image of Whistler’s mother, with the motto “In memory and honor of the Mothers of America.”
Whistler’s mother, along with other great paintings, regardless of their artistic historical importance, beauty or monetary value, manages to immediately communicate meaning to almost everyone, democratizing culture by transcending the elitist sphere of the museum to the space of popular culture.