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Mothers in Art: Some Mother’s Day Paintings and Pictures by Mary Cassatt & Other Great Artists

 by Mary Cassatt 1890
by Mary Cassatt 1890

Some Thoughts on Mothers

It’s coming up to Mother’s Day here in the UK, and I thought I’d celebrate by compiling a hub about Mothers in Art. Initially, I thought of blue gowned Renaissance madonnas, chubby cheeked Renoir infants balanced precariously on the knees of bonny-looking country lasses, and of course, the touching mother and child paintings of Mary Cassatt. Searching out images for a picture hub is always a great pleasure for me, and this one was no different, except that I don’t normally get tearful researching a hub. I wasn’t prepared for that.

I got to thinking as I gathered together images of mums with their little ones, just how important our mothers are in shaping who we are, and setting us on our path in life. I started to think about my own children, and whether I’m doing the best I can to raise them to be honest, and sensible, hard-working, and caring. I thought about the two of them as babies, and remembered the wonder of it all. Those precious, warm little bundles nuzzling into my arms, fragrant with that special baby scent that melts your heart. I waited a long time to have children, and it was so worth the wait.

My own Mum died in 1999, a little less than two months after the birth of my second child. She never got to see my fine, blonde boy, growing tall and strong. She didn’t get to see my beautiful girl, who she adored, change from toddler, to child, to young woman. I lost my Mum, and the kids lost their Grandma.

Even now, ten years on, just thinking of my Mum brings a tear to my eye. She was a very special lady who was well-loved and well-respected by friends and family alike. There were six of us, and money wasn’t always plentiful when we were growing up, but she and my Dad did their best to give us a happy childhood. The house was always full of music and laughter. Our friends were made welcome, too, and Mum was forever making and baking. I know what a treasure we lost when she passed into the next life, and I only hope my own children remember me even half so fondly.

Sleeping Baby, by Mary Cassatt, 1910

An American Impressionist – Mary Cassatt

American Impressionist, Mary Cassatt worked and exhibited alongside Degas, Renoir and Monet, the original Impressionist artists. Cassatt claimed to “hate conventional art” and when Edgar Degas suggested that she exhibit with this group of independent artists she was delighted to accept. Female Impressionists were extremely rare, and American Impressionists even more so.

Daughter of a wealthy investment banker, Mary Stephenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, and entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861, then continued her studies in Paris in 1865, where, after a period of travelling, and studying in Italy, Spain and Belgium, she settled permanently from 1875 onwards.

She became most famous for her paintings of mothers with children, engaged in everyday activities. Despite, or perhaps because, of the domestic nature of the paintings, her style has an engaging warmth and intimacy.

Mary Cassatt died at Beaufresne, France on June 14 1926.

Mother and Child 1886, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

From Porcelain Painter to Impressionist Genius

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges on 25th of February 1841, and died in Cagnes-sur-Mer in 1919. He had a long and productive life, completing several thousand paintings, and is probably the best known of the French Impressionists.

Renoir started his career in art at the porcelain factory in Limoges, where he quckly became highly skilled in decorating the products. Encouraged by the admiration of his co-workers, Renoir headed to Paris in 1862 to study under Charles Gyre, and there he began to develop his highly-individual and distinctive style of art, which is now known and loved by a wide and appreciative audience.

‘Quiet’ by James Tissot, 1881

The Lost Love That Shaped Tissot’s Art

James Tissot is thought of by many as an English artist, but in fact he was a Frenchman, born in Nantes in 1836. Originally named Jacques-Joseph, he adopted the name James when he moved to England, and many of his major works were completed in the UK.

Tissot is particularly famed for his exquisitely detailed and highly finished paintings of beautiful women in sumptuous settings, but his most touching images are of his lover Kathleen Newton and her two children. Sadly, Kathleen died within a year or two of this painting being completed at the tragically young age of 28. Kathleen was the great love of Tissot’s life, and her sad decline from healthy young woman, to pale invalid is recorded in his many portraits of her.

The Cradle by Berthe Morisot

A Woman With ‘No Profession’

I love this wonderfully loose painting of a mother tenderly gazing at her sleeping baby. The artist, Berthe Morisot, was a woman of no small talents, who, like Mary Cassatt, painted and exhibited along-side the original French Impressionists. Berthe married Eugene Manet, the brother of Edouard Manet, in 1874, and their home soon became a magnet for influential writers and artists of the era.

Berthe died of pneumonia in 1895 at the age of 54, yet despite the great acclaim that her paintings had commanded, her death certificate recorded her as having ‘no profession.’

Whistler’s Mother

An Arrangement in Grey and Black, 1871

I couldn’t resist including this very famous painting of James McNeill Whistler’s mother. It’s so stern and serious, a strange composition, yet a compelling one. It’s austere choice of palette draws the eye, and imprints on the memory.

Whistler was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834, and died in London, England in 1903.

Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael

Raphael’s Beautiful Madonna Circa 1506

The thing I really like about this Madonna is it’s informality. The Bible tells us that Mary was a young Mother, yet many traditional images depict a mature woman. This Madonna has a joyous, youthful look about her. She and her son are captured in a moment of fun. They are holding ‘Pinks’, a flower whose botanical name is ‘Dianthus’ which means ‘flower of God’. This Raphael painting can be seen in the National Gallery, London, England.

Karin With Suzanne, 1885

Carl Larsson’s Portrait of His Wife and Child

The Swedish artist Carl Larsson rose from a background of abject poverty to become a famous and successful artist and illustrator. Larsson’s favourite models were his wife Karin and their seven children, and this delicate portrait is an example painted in the early years of their marriage. Little Suzanne, fluffy haired and rosy cheeked, snuggles contentedly in her mothers embrace, whilst Karin’s expression is full of love and warmth.

Young Woman With Her Son, by Angelo Bronzino

A Formal Portrait From Circa 1540

I picked this painting out, because despite the formality of the pose and the unsmiling expression on the sitters faces, there is still an intimacy between the mother and son, suggested by the gentle touching of their hands, and the way that her arms passes around his shoulder. The sitter would have been a wealthy woman. Her dress is richly decorated, and her manner is imperious, but the love between her and her child is self-evident.

Gravesend Bay by William Merritt Chase, 1888

Gravesend Bay

Born in Indiana in 1849 William Chase produced a steady stream of Impressionistic works until his death in 1916. His favourite models were his wife Alice and their children, and he completed many family scenes such as this. The feeling of light, and the subtle colours perfectly express the warm summer’s day, and the comfortable relationship between the mother and baby, and the older sibling gazing out at the bay.

Elizabethan Sisters and Their Babies, Circa 1599

The Cholmondeley Sisters and Their Swaddled Babies

This fantastic image is straight from Elizabethan times. It makes me smile every time I look at it. The Cholmondeley sisters sit side-by-side in a double bed proudly showing off their swaddled babies. And just like a modern-day photo shoot of a new mother in Hello magazine, these stars of Tudor times are primped and preened to perfection with their crisply starched ruffs and lacy caps.

Hawaiian Mother and Child by Charles W. Bartlett 1920

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Hawaiian Mother and Child

Charles Bartlett began his working career in the field of metallurgy, but his love of art led him, at the age of 23, to enrol in the Royal Academy of Art, in London. He later entered the private studio school, Academie Julien in Paris, where he continued his studies. In 1889, he returned to England and married Emily Tate, but tragically, his new wife was to die in childbirth early in their marriage, and he also lost his infant son. Bartlett then traveled to Europe, producing many paintings in Holland, Brittany and Venice, working alongside his friend and fellow artist Frank Brangwyn (1867–1956).

1898, he returned to England and married Catherine “Kate” Main. Bartlett and his second wife returned to the Continent where he helped found the Société de la Peinture a l’Eau in Paris in 1908. In 1913, the Bartletts toured India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, and Japan. En route back to England from Japan they stopped off in Hawaii, where they remained —never returning to Europe.

The painting above is typical of Bartlett’s style, and it shows a native Hawaiian tenderly playing with her child.

Sweet Dreams by Firmin Baes

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Sweet Dreams by Firmin Baes

Firmin Baes (1874 – 1943) was a Belgian artist, who grew up in an artistic environment, and was fortunate enough to enjoy success right from his earliest days as a working artist. Baes was father to three daughters, and perhaps this provided inspiration for this sweet painting of a mother and her child.

Young Mother Contemplating her Child by Candlelight by Albert Anker 1875

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Mother and Child by Emil Osterman 1910

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

‘Summer’ by Ivana Kobilca

A Summer Idyll

This is considered to be one of the finest works by Ivana Kobilka (1861-1926), a Slovenian Realist artist. The young mother is helping her two little ones to make a garland of meadow flowers. The attention to detail is breath-taking, and the expression on the older child’s face is one of happy concentration.

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