James McNeill Whistler<br/>
American 1834–1903<br/>
"Arrangement in grey and black no. 1:<br/>
Portrait of the artist’s mother" 1871<br/>
oil on canvas<br/>
144.3 x 162.5 cm<br/>
Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 699)<br/>
Photo : © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Jean Schormans<br/>
Photo : © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Jean Schormans

Whistler’s Mother

NGV International

Level 2

25 Mar 16 – 19 Jun 16

The National Gallery of Victoria presents one of the most recognisable and iconic paintings in the world, the exceptional and historic Portrait of the artist’s mother 1871, painted by master artist James McNeill Whistler. This focused exhibition marks the first time that this large and imposing painting has travelled to Australia on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Unlike any other exhibition presented by the NGV, Whistler’s Mother explores this complex painting from various perspectives ranging from its volatile reception; the life of its sitter – Anna Whistler; the influences that informed its production; and the conservation story behind its making. The NGV has also produced a short film regarding the painting which further immerses visitors in the work.

The popularity of the work is also charted. From its grudging acceptance when first painted (its non-narrative qualities confronted tastes of the time), the painting became a household name when the thirty-second President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, was so taken with it that in 1934 he himself devised a design of it for a Mother’s Day stamp. The NGV has its own associations with Portrait of the artist’s mother before now unexplored. The Gallery holds a similar Goodwin chair on which the painting’s sitter Anna Whistler sits, plus an edition of the etching Black Lion Wharf 1859, which is depicted in the background of the famous painting. The exhibition also reveals the remarkable influence Whistler has had on some of Australia’s most prominent artists including John Longstaff, Tom Roberts, E. Phillips Fox and Hugh Ramsay.

The National Gallery of Victoria is delighted to lend Pierre Bonnard’s seminal work Siesta (La Sieste), 1900 to the Musée d’Orsay in 2016 to acknowledge the Museum’s 30th anniversary. The exchange of these important paintings between NGV and the Musée d’Orsay will occur under the program of the Australia- France Agreement on Cultural and Scientific Cooperation. 

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Whistler’s Mother: An icon

Works in this exhibition are protected under the Australian Government's Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Scheme. Find out more