In honor of Mother’s Day, Stephanie Piefer Niemeyer, from the museum’s education department, writes about two works depicting mother and child featured in the Blanton Museum of Art’s exhibition of masterworks.
Isis and Horus. Demeter and Persephone. Mary and Jesus. Imagery of mother and child are plentiful in the history of art. They are symbols of fertility, examples of protectiveness, and models of compassion. This spring the Blanton invites you to see two images of mother and child in Through the Eyes of Texas: Masterworks from Alumni Collections, a Mary Cassatt drypoint and a Charles White charcoal drawing. Both capture the recognizable embrace between mother and child while each one’s mood is decidedly unique to the context of the times in which they were made.
Every time I go to an art museum with my mom, she asks me the same question, “do you think they have a Cassatt?” For my mom, Mary Cassatt is the “it” artist, and here we see the familiar, tender subject matter that has made Mary Cassatt one of the best known Impressionist artists. While Cassatt painted a multitude of other subjects in her career, her images of mothers and their children remain beloved glimpses into late nineteenth century domestic life. What could the little girl have said to her mother at this moment? Was it a youthful observation? When will you read me a story? A quiet “I love you”? We can imagine this little girl wiggling off of her mother’s lap to play with a smile on both their faces as they go about their day in the Paris of 1902.
Diagonally in the gallery from Mary Cassatt is American artist Charles White’s Ye Shall Inherit the Earth. I don’t want my mom to miss this one when she comes to visit because I love the sense of strength and protectiveness that emanates from this image. With the Cassatt, we seem deeply rooted in the present of that time, but with White, I feel like we are on the cusp of the future. As this mother fiercely embraces her son, she appears to be moving forward out of the frame toward a new day. What parent does not want the next generation to inherit a better world, a better chance, and a better life? In this mother we see a quiet steadfastness and calm determination willing that her son will live in a new kind of United States where everyone is encouraged to realize all of his or her dreams.
Here we have two mothers in two different times and places each wanting their children to grow up happy and healthy and strong. I think about my mother this week who like the Cassatt mother indulged a wiggling little girl and like White’s mother boosted me to achieve all that I could, and I say thank you and happy mother’s day today and everyday. In honor of mothers everywhere who bandaged scraped knees or soothed disappointments after junior high dances, happy mother’s day.
Call your mother… and bring her to the Blanton!