Mary Cassatt is perhaps the most well-known painter of mothers. A contemporary of Edgar Degas during the 19th- and 20th-century era of Impressionists, she filled many a canvas with depictions of motherhood, sketching and painting the intimate bond forged between mom and child.
While male artists before her never shied away from rendering Pieta-style images of mothers as divine nurturers, Cassatt is credited with introducing a "New Woman" in the late 1800s. This "New Woman" was both a mother and an active member of society, shown "as the model of intelligence and accomplishments" engaging in intellectual activities. Mary's own mother Katherine Cassatt believed in educating her daughter on the social issues and current events, probably contributing to Mary's desire to create scenes like this, focused on a woman reading the daily newspaper Le Figaro.
During Cassatt's time, the upper-middle class "New Woman" was transgressive. Today, artists are painting, sculpting, photographing and recording the many, many complexities of motherhood faced by women of all classes, that challenge and explore the idea that mothers can "do it all." As a reminder of how art has reflected a shifting image of motherhood, here are just a selection of our favorite moms in (mostly Western) art history.
Happy Mother's Day to Mary, Whistler's mom, "Migrant Mother," and all the other strong women in art: