Whistler’s Mother

I went to the launch last night of the new biography of Whistler’s Mother: Portrait of an Extraordinary Life by Daniel Sutherland and Georgia Toutziari (actually, I was speaking at it). The book contains an account of how Whistler’s picture of his mother was submitted to the annual Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in April 1872 and very nearly turned down: too unfinished perhaps, too nakedly emotional, too monochrome (these were all comments of the critics when it was first shown). They had already turned down The White Girl, his great portrait of Joanna Hiffernan ten years earlier, now The Symphony in White No. 1, one of the masterpieces of the National Gallery of Washington. Then, Sir William Boxall RA, the Director of the National Gallery, a shy man, who had been a friend of Wordsworth, told Council that he would resign if they did not accept the picture. The picture was grudgingly accepted and is now recognised as one of the greatest pictures of the nineteenth century. We wanted to borrow it for our forthcoming exhibition about the ups and downs of the Summer Exhibition, The Great Spectacle (opens June 12th.), but sadly weren’t able to. I’m sorry because it might have been possible to judge what its impact must have been amidst acres of mediocre subject painting.


One thought on “Whistler’s Mother

  1. It is indeed a wonderful portrait and the Boxall story is a delight.

    Will you have other Whistlers in the Great Spectacle exhibition – what a great idea! Who is curating it ?

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