Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mother's Love

It is after lunch on Mothering Sunday and I am currently eating chocolate cake while still wearing my pyjamas, so all in all I'm having a good time.  Lily-Rose has drawn me a lovely picture of a dog and I received an awesome card with Clytie on the front, so my day is pretty much rocking.  I can't sleep and write for the entire day (well, I could but that doesn't get a blog post done) and so I turned my thoughts to Victorian Mums.

Arrangement in Grey and Black (1871) James McNeill Whistler
Whistler's Mother.  Sigh, it's all a bit dour, all very miserable Victorian maternity.  Mind you, maybe poor Mrs Whistler knew she was going to end up being the iconic Victorian Mother, and was never going to be thought of as the world-class fire-eater and tight-rope walker that she was.  I may have made that bit up, but you know what I mean.

Portrait of the Artist's Mother (1902) Joseph Edward Southall
I love this picture, as she looks very prim indeed, but with the most beautiful brooch.  I really love that hat too.

Portrait of the Artist's Mother (1886) James Cadenhead
Maybe there was a law passed that you had to paint your mum in black, with iron-grey hair and a pensive expression, which says 'I'm still not convinced that my son made the right career choice, but I'll humour him...'.  James Cadenhead's picture, subtitled 'Lady with a Japanese Screen and Goldfish' is outstanding - look at the light on the bowl and shining on the twists of embroidery silks.  I suppose that by the time these artists had become successful enough to be spending time on big pictures of their mums, the mothers were probably were widows and getting old, hence all the black and grey.  Hang on, there is one notable exception...

The Artist's Mother (late 1840s) Frederick Sandys
Wow, look at Mrs Sandys, working the chestnut ringlets and red shawl.  That's one foxy mama, well, by Victorian Mum standards.  Mind you, she still looks like she's thinking 'So he wants to be an artist...hmmmm...maybe he'll grow out of it...'

It's all very well being the subject of your son's picture, but what of the anonymous mother of Nineteenth Century imagery?  When the subject is in the abstract, 'the mother' becomes a symbol, an icon, an eternal.

Motherhood (1890s) Arthur Hughes
Well, it doesn't get more allegorical than this. Like a beacon of hope, this mother rises up, glowing with goodness and sparkly mother-love.  Splendid.  Well, it's nice to be appreciated...

Mother and Child (Spring) Christopher Williams
Slightly more down to earth, Christopher Williams brings us Mother and Child as a symbol of new beginnings, hope, optimism and all that palaver.  I was surprised at how many images of breast feeding there are in Victorian art; there are scores of them, of all persuasions.  When I had Lily-Rose, I was astonished at the scary levels of pressure on both sides to either breast feed or bottle feed your child, and it remains one of the most divisive issues among mothers, and when was the last time you saw a modern image of a woman breast-feeding?  Well, Victorian images of maternity are awash with ladies, bosom out.  Hurrah, I say.  Mind you, there was no alternative at the time, apart from another lady's bosom.

Maternity (1873) Leon Perrault
This is a fairly common image: a cheery mother clutches her chubby infant and everyone looks radiant and well rested. And like they've had a wash and brushed their hair, and no-one has rubbed yoghurt into their clothes, amongst other things.  To be fair, I'm sure I have countless pictures of me looking washed and cheery with my gorgeous baby, all complete lies (apart from the fact that she is gorgeous).  This is more like the truth...

After a Sleepless Night (1893) Kalle Lochen
Yes, no sleep for nine months, that when you know what you're made of.  Mind you, I went a bit mad after Lily's birth, so I'm probably not a good example, but I do feel so horribly sorry for my friends with their young babies as you can't possibly prepare people for how hard it is.  I loved this picture when I saw it on Bridgeman Art Library as it was the only picture which addressed the fact that babies cry.  And cry.  And cry.  Sleep is a gorgeous luxury and I love the fact that the mother has just completely flaked out, while you can just see the little pink face of the baby, finally asleep in his crib.

Weaning Jules Ernest Renoux
I loved this image, not only because of the delicate colours, but also the baby's glass bottle, which I found fascinating.  That is a jolly looking baby, and I respect the woman's choice of black clothes as it hides a multitude of stains.  Unless it's yoghurt.

There was a plethora of images of cheery ladies/chubby infants/maternal pride, like this...

'Oh look, I had a baby, I rule.  Plus your bum looks big in that...'
What I also wanted to find were pictures of mothers of older children, like this...

A Son's Devotion (1868) Pierre Castan

Ahh, look, rural sons love their mums.  Look, this nice young man has made his old mum some food because he loves her so much.  It seems a shame that his sister is using his moment of affection to pick her mother's pocket, but that's life.  They are poor after all, so it's good to start your life of petty crime early.

Mother and Daughter (1910) Frank Dicksee
Now, this is an interesting one.  One day, Lily-Rose will come to me with her tale of woe over some stupid boy. Mmm, can't wait.

Mother has Fallen Asleep Delapoer Downing
Alternatively, your daughter might wait for you to fall asleep so she can be inappropriate with said wastrel.  Frankly, that hat should have alerted the mother to the character of that young man, but then again, she raised a right little minx so she only has herself to blame.

Anyway, I have two favourite images of Victorian motherhood, I couldn't chose between them as they are both so gorgeous.  Firstly, we have this rather Thomas Hardy number...

The Wayfarer George Hitchcock
The blues of this image are so sharp and light, glinting off the flowers and the sad little bundle carried by the woman.  She has the look of a determined, wronged Hardy heroine, making her escape from the past to an optimistic tomorrow.  Although she looks a little crushed by life, she also is bathed in joyous light, so I feel that everything will be alright for her, and she won't be forced to die in the snow.

A Mother and Child by a River, with Wild Roses (1900) Mildred Butler
Look at the little feet on the brick wall!  This is a giant slice of loveliness, and I don't know if it's an allegory or a portrait or what, and I don't care because it's just so beautiful.  The colours of the dresses picked out in the scattering of flowers, the rough grass and meadow contrasting with the smooth of the river, every inch of the canvas is a delight to look at.  The mother supports her little girl as she walks along the wall, her eyes on her determined child whose way is blocked by a tendril of wild roses.  The roses block their way, but also seems to bind them, together forever, the mother supporting her child as she makes her way along the wall of life.  Then again it might just be a picture of a mother and daughter by a river.  Not everything has to be a metaphor, you know (although, to be fair, most things are round here).

Anyway, happy Mothering Sunday/Refreshment Sunday or whatever you call it, I hope you have a lovely day filled with maternal jollity and stuff.  I'm off to laze around in my pyjamas a bit more while dying the grey bits out of my hair.  What sent me grey?  Oh yes, motherhood....


  1. Great post Kirsty,lovely collection of Mums!

  2. I just love the final two!

  3. Lovely paintings & post, Kirsty, and am so glad you introduced me to the last two!

  4. I'm glad you like the last two, they are rather special. I hope everyone had a nice Refreshment Sunday :)

  5. Thanks good post again Monday are the pyjamas off yet

  6. Great post are the pyjamas off yet


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx