Whistler’s Mother

Whistler’s Mother
Michael Green

The following is transcribed from a Facebook Chat, August 4, 2013. Nancy Liddell Simpson and I are first cousins. Nancy sent me a chat message while I was enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. Little did she know that she would inspire some blogging.

Nancy: Hey cuz!!! I think I am losing my mind…need your help! Was it the Mona Lisa or Whistler’s Mother that your parents took us to see in Atlanta (when we were children)? Please tell me that I didn’t dream this? LOL!!!!

Mike: Hey Nancy! Good morning! It was Whistler’s Mother at The High Museum.
Good memory…and glad you remembered it! No mind loss…LOL

Nancy: Thanks!!!!! It is something so significant that happened in my life…that’s why I wanted to get it right. I hate it when I doubt myself…so I ask questions. I remember standing there thinking how lucky I was to be seeing such a piece of history. I remember being in awe. Thanks Charlotte and Bill (Mike’s parents)!

Mike: I think about it, as well, Nancy. I don’t imagine that there were many of our friends and relatives that got to do that. Kind of unusual at that time… Didn’t MawMaw Liddell go on that trip, too?

Mike: “Whistler’s Mother” is the common name for the painting. The real name is Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 and it is part of the permanent collection at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France. When Will was in Paris, I had hoped that he would get to that museum and see it, but he did not have enough time. If I remember correctly, it is huge! I don’t think that it tours very often, so we participated in a rare event. You are right, I really have to appreciate that my parents went the extra mile. I was blessed.

Nancy: I knew the Mona Lisa had another name; I was just about to Google Whistler’s Mother and see what it was and also where it was housed. Thanks!!! I do remember it being big…but I didn’t know if that was just because we were little and it just seemed that way. LOL!!! What a great thing to have done in our life! I have some culture and didn’t even know it!!! LOL!!!

Mike: I thought the same thing about being little myself, so I am going to Google it and check size. (Pause) It is 4’9″X5’4″

Mike: 😊 I really appreciate your bringing this up. Do you remember if MawMaw Liddell went with us?

Mike: BTW, I just had an idea to blog this and I wanted your permission to use our conversation and your picture to use. I will post in FB. OK?

Nancy: I would be honored!!!

Mike: It was the Fall of 1962. I think it has had two or three other US trips. It is called “an American icon” and the American “Mona Lisa.”

Nancy: I can’t remember MawMaw being with us…but that doesn’t mean anything…LOL!!! I don’t think I went to see “The Three Lives of Thomasina” at the Fox (I had asked if she went on a movie outing when we were children). Maybe it was Beverly’s (another cousin) turn to do something with you. LOL! Funny, I was just going to ask you if you knew what year!! Gonna check back with you when I get back from church. Have a great Sunday! Love you SOOOOOO MUCH!!

The Facebook chat ended at this point, but my research did not. The following is more information about Whistler and the art exhibition those several years ago.

Whistler was annoyed with critics who called his painting, a portrait. In his 1890 book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, he wrote:

“Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black.’ Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public do to care about the identity of the portrait.”

In 1934 the U.S. Post office issued a stamp engraved with a stylized image of “Whistler’s Mother,” accompanied by the slogan “In Memory and In Honor of the Mothers of America.”

An 8-ft statue based on the painting was erected in 1938 in Ashland, Pennsylvania honoring mothers. Images of the painting have appeared in advertisements. Images of the subject have been shown watching a television. One advertisement had a slogan, “Whistler’s Mother is Off Her Rocker.”

The painting is now displayed at The Musee’ d’Orsay in Paris.

106 Atlanta arts patrons died in an airplane crash at Orly Airport in Paris, France on June 3, 1962. They were on a trip sponsored by the High Museum of Art. 130 people were killed in that horrible crash. Many prominent Atlantans were killed. The Atlanta arts patrons had viewed “Whistler’s Mother” at the Louvre. The Louvre, as a gesture of good will to the people of Atlanta, sent “Whistler’s Mother” to Atlanta to be exhibited at the High Museum of Art that fall.

Mike Green and Nancy Liddell Simpson were two youngsters in the crowd that Fall of 1962.

August 4, 2013

Pictured below are photographs of Whistler’s painting and the U.S. stamp honoring mothers. Also pictured are my cousin Nancy and myself. The author trusts that the reader can discern which is which.





2 thoughts on “Whistler’s Mother

  1. Mike, I too remember seeing this painting as a child. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Atlanta School of Art for Children as a child. Each week we would be taken to the different painting halls and taught about the many works housed there. I was so lucky to see many great art works that were at the High. I was also lucky that so many of the great artists in Atlanta were my teachers.They were so generous with their time teaching us about shadows, light and style. When the plane crashed in France I remember the feeling of such loss as I knew many of the instructors on that plane and as a child I was questionsed Why? for a long time.

    1. Thank you, Libby, for sharing that! That experience must have been wonderful, especially in retrospect. Too bad we didn’t run into each other that Fall of ’62! Our paths crossed a little later! I am itching to see the new exhibition and cast my gaze upon “The Girl with a Pearl Earring!”

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