The National Gallery of Victoria has announced that James McNeill Whistler’s portrait of his mother, called “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1.” 1871, will be the focus of an exhibition at the NGV in 2016.
The exhibition, Whistler’s Mother, will focus on this important painting by Whistler, which in 1891 became the first work by an American artist to be bought by the French State (it now resides in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris). The painting was not well received when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in London, but went on to become one of the most popular of its day, though Whistler was often frustrated by the sentimental responses to it. The painting is evocatively described in a recent article by Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker where he writes:
The painting represents the peak of Whistler’s radical method of modulating tones of single colors. The paint looks soft, almost fuzzy—as if it were exhaled onto the surface. There is some bravura brushwork, where Anna’s lace-cuffed hands clutch a handkerchief, with unprimed canvas peeking through, and daubed hints of Japanese-style floral patterning on a curtain that commands the left side of the picture. A few of the daubs faintly echo the pink of Anna’s flesh. She wears a gold wedding ring: a spark of harmony with the muted gilding of the frame that Whistler designed for the picture. Practically subliminal whispers of reds and blues underlie areas of the silver-gray wall behind her, and a dark purple smolders in the curtain, where the artist’s signature emblem—a butterfly—hovers. … Read the full article here.
The painting remained popular, in 1934 the thirty-second President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, devised a design of it for a Mother’s Day stamp.
The exhibition at the NGV will include paintings by Australian artists who drew on Whistler’s ideas, such as John Longstaff, Tom Roberts, E. Phillips Fox and Hugh Ramsay.
For more information see the NGV website:http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/whistlers-mother/