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Art and Images in Psychiatry
December 2005

Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother

Author Affiliations
 

JAMES C.HARRISMD

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(12):1294-1295. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.12.1294

I was surprised when . . . he said to me: Mother, I want you to stand for me. It is what I have long intended and desired to do, to take your portrait.

—Anna Whistler to her sister Kate Palmer, November 3, 18711(p40)

The James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) painting Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother is his most famous painting; it has become an icon and has been endlessly characterized. Whistler’s celebrity was secured in 1891, when the French government purchased “Whistler’s Mother” for eventual placement in the Louvre (now in the Musée d’Orsay). Although commentary on the painting often has focused on the portrait of his mother herself, sometimes criticizing the painting as lacking in sentimentality and warmth, qualities expected in a portrait of one’s mother, this was not Whistler’s view. When asked about the painting by a newspaper, The World(May 22, 1878), he said:

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