It’s a simple idea but a powerful one — and perhaps the single greatest Mother’s Day gift idea of all time. The Artist’s Mother collects depictions of the maternal unit across six centuries of Western art history giants. There’s the iconic Whistler from 1871 of course — he really inspired the project, and like many, his portrait of mom went on to be his most famous work. Also in the pages, Toulouse-Lautrec — whom one never really thinks of as having a mom, and it turns out she was a Countess — plus Gauguin, Seurat, van Gogh, Picasso (with a pair of pictures of his mom: a haunting, candlelit love letter with no cubism in evidence from when he was only 15; and a later example from 1923, by which time his style had completely altered yet he restrained his avant-garde impulses in favor of elegance on this occasion), and even a rare 1974 Andy Warhol.
If it’s true that we all become our parents, then maybe painting our mothers can be seen as predictive self-portraiture, an especially poignant notion when you look at the 15th century Durers and the 17th century Rembrandts in the book, and think about how famous both men became for obsessively depicting themselves. The collection is introduced with a moving essay by Judith Thurman entitled “A Mother’s Gift, A Child’s Homage” in which we discover that mothers really do get excited when their kids immortalize them on canvas.