Exhibition: Whistler's Mother

Now that autumn is here in Melbourne and the weather is cooling down a bit, why not head indoors and check out some interesting exhibitions?


Whistler's Mother

25 March to 19June 2016

National Gallery of Victoria

NGV International

180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne

03 8260 2222


One of the most important paintings to come to Australia, Whistler's Mother, a "complex and fascinating" story about a painter and his relationship with his mother, is now on display at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) this week.

The 1.6-metre-tall painting, officially called Portrait of the Artist's Mother, was painted in 1871 by James McNeil Whistler and is one of the most recognisable paintings in the world.

Assistant director of the NGV,Dr Isobel Crombie commented on the austere painting.

"He was quite a character, and when his mother Anna Whistler came to stay after she was widowed he said that he would have to purify his house.

"He would have to move his mistress out, as well as the serving girl who had just borne his child."

Mother and son were two very different personalities.

She was a devout Episcopalian who tried to exert a virtuous power over her son's life, but failed.

"The one area they did correspond was in their attitude to work," Dr Crombie said.

"Whistler was an extremely dedicated artist and I like to think of this painting in some ways as being his mother's revenge.

"It was the first time I think that he listened to her and it's been the most successful painting for him."

Dr Crombie believes the painting is popular because it is a "distillation on the meanings of motherhood."

"If you look at the way that he's painted her beautiful old skin and her hands, you can see that it's not that he hated his mother by any means," she said.

"He really did adore his mother in many ways."

The exhibition looks at Whistler's career as an artist, his mother and some of the other painters, including Australian John Longstaff, who were influenced by his work.

"A painting like this is probably one of the most important paintings to come to Australia, in some sense, they go beyond that kind of monetary value because they're irreplaceable," Dr Crombie said.

"If you think in the history of art there's probably only a handful of paintings that you would call icons which everybody knows, and I can't think of another example of a more important painting that has come to Australia," she said.