By Tom Siebert
“Whistler’s Mother” is a colloquialism for Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, a painting in oils on canvas created by American-born artist James McNeil Whistler in 1871. The work was lukewarmly received, forcing the artist to pawn the painting. But it was eventually acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and later acclaimed worldwide as a masterpiece. However, the artist always insisted that the painting should be viewed not as an affectionate portrait but as a groundbreaking configuration of earth-tone colors. “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?” he asked. My answer across the ages came after seeing the painting in person at The Art Institute of Chicago, the first time the American icon had been displayed in the U.S. since 1954. Whistler’s magnum opus is more about motherhood than Mother Earth.