CULTURE & ARTS

A Glorious Survey Of Moms In Art History

Happy Mother's Day to Mary, Whistler's mom, "Migrant Mother," and all the other strong women in art.
Mary Cassatt, "Under the Horse-Chestnut Tree," 1896-97
Mary Cassatt, "Under the Horse-Chestnut Tree," 1896-97

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:

Berthe Morisot, "The Cradle," 1872
Berthe Morisot, "The Cradle," 1872
Gustav Klimt, "Death and Life," 1911-1915
Gustav Klimt, "Death and Life," 1911-1915
Weegee, "Mother and child in Harlem," 1943
Weegee, "Mother and child in Harlem," 1943
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, "Self-portrait with daughter," 1789
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, "Self-portrait with daughter," 1789
James Abbot McNeill Whistler, "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1" or "Whistler's Mother,"<i>&nbsp;</i>1871
James Abbot McNeill Whistler, "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1" or "Whistler's Mother," 1871
Mary Cassatt, "The Boating Party," 1893-94
Mary Cassatt, "The Boating Party," 1893-94
Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," 1936
Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," 1936
Egon Schiele, "Tote Mutter,"&nbsp;1910
Egon Schiele, "Tote Mutter," 1910
Paul Gauguin, "Women on the Seashore (The Motherhood)," 1899
Paul Gauguin, "Women on the Seashore (The Motherhood)," 1899
Vincent van Gogh, "Portrait of the artist's mother," 1888
Vincent van Gogh, "Portrait of the artist's mother," 1888
Gordon Parks, photograph of&nbsp;Ella Watson and family, 1942
Gordon Parks, photograph of Ella Watson and family, 1942
Michelangelo, &ldquo;Pieta,&rdquo; 1498-99
Michelangelo, “Pieta,” 1498-99
Adolphe Bouguereau, "Maternal Admiration," 1869
Adolphe Bouguereau, "Maternal Admiration," 1869
Louise Bourgeois, "Spider Maman," circa 1999
Louise Bourgeois, "Spider Maman," circa 1999
Mickalene Thomas, from&nbsp;&ldquo;Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman" [Thomas' mother], 2014
Mickalene Thomas, from “Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman" [Thomas' mother], 2014
Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876&ndash;1907), "Reclining Mother and Child"
Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), "Reclining Mother and Child"
Kitagawa Utamaro,<strong>&nbsp;</strong>"Woman inspecting silk"
Kitagawa Utamaro, "Woman inspecting silk"
Mary Cassatt, "Maternit&eacute;," 1890
Mary Cassatt, "Maternité," 1890
Edouard Manet, "The Railway," 1873
Edouard Manet, "The Railway," 1873
Joan Miro, "Seated Woman and Child," 1967
Joan Miro, "Seated Woman and Child," 1967

Photo dated 1898, found via Pinterest ❤️

A photo posted by @breastfeedingart on

Sylvia Maier's portrait of Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah, who was shot and killed by New York City police on September 25,
Sylvia Maier's portrait of Hawa Bah, mother of Mohamed Bah, who was shot and killed by New York City police on September 25, 2012.