Rembrandt’s Mother Reading (c. 1629) . Cornelia was 60 years old.
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’s mother at 63 years of age. She had by this time experienced 18 pregnancies.
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.’
Durer’s Portrait of His mother,1490. Barbara was 39 years old.
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:
Paul Cezanne The Artist’s Mother c. 1866. Anne was 52 years old.
Whistler’s Mother, 1871. Painted when she was 67 years old.
This painting by Whistler was a tribute to his mother. Here is a photograph of Anna Matilda Whistler.
Anna Matilda Whistler, 1850. She was 50 years old.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec portrait of his mother, Countess Adele Zoe de Toulouse Lautrec, 1883. She was 42 years old.
Van Gogh Portrait of the mother of the artist, 1888. Anna was 69 years old.
Picasso’s mother,1896. Maria was 41 years old.
Juan Gris, mother, 1912. At least Picasso painted his mother before Cubism etc.
Lucian Freud, The Painters Mother,1983 . Lucie was 77 years old.