by Kerry Cue
In her book, How to Age (The school of Life, 2014) Anne Karpf writes about the imagery of old age as a ‘hideous ruin’. Sociologist Mike Featherstone called such imagery ‘a pornography of old age’. And don’t we know it. We are surrounded by such images daily including the shriveled and stooped portrails of old geezers and crones in comics, birthday cards, cartoons, advertisements, horror movies, sitcoms, TV crime series and more. And don’t forget the witches in literature from Macbeth to the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It is the aim of Sibylesque to provide the postive balance to this negativity. You can find such imagery at The Sibyls Salute: Jennette Williams.
The artist, however, runs into a dilemma when painting their own mother. Should they be sympathetic or realistic? Even artists can portray their own elderly mothers as ‘hideous ruins’. This was especially cruel as often their mother sat for the portrait when the artist’s model failed to appear. The painting that made Whistler famous resulted when the model didn’t show. (Below). The end result, however, was sympathetic. I will not dwell on the cruel images except for this sketch one sketch by Durer. I feel he was being very harsh on his own mother.
Durer was not always so unforgiving in his portrayals of his mother. Here is an earlier oil painting by Durer of his mother. As one friend pointed out, Durer’s mother has a look on her face that suggests she’s thinking ‘Go on. Get on with it.’
Aging is often portrayed in modern media as some kind of failure. This is the price paid for living in a youth culture, I guess. Old age, however, can be presented with love and empathy and the result is an image, as Karpf notes, of dignity and beauty. Here are the portraits of artist’s mothers with their ages included:
This painting by Whistler was a tribute to his mother. Here is a photograph of Anna Matilda Whistler.
Photo source: If it’s hip, it’s here blog.