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Whistler's mother had nothing on columnist Isabel Torrey

It was near Mother’s Day a number of years ago when a friend and I were coffee-ing, and she remarked, “You know, I’ve always liked that famous painting Whistler did of his mother; it so reminds me of my own Mom.”

I picked up on that, saying, “I feel the same way. You know what? Wouldn’t it be fun if we’d dress up like Whistler’s mother and snapped pictures of each other?”

Mary, my cohort-in-crime (and both of us a bit crazy in our middle-age stages), was all for it. “I already have a long black dress that can fit either of us. And, since you don’t sew, I’ll make you a deal: If you’ll take the pictures, I’ll make the bonnet.”

“Good idea! I’ll snap, you sew.” (Mary knows my idea of a torture chamber is being shut up in a room with a sewing machine.)

Now, before relating Mary’s and my prank, a bit of background about the famous painting commonly known as simply, “Whistler’s Mother.” Few know it was originally titled, “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1.”

Reportedly in his younger days, the artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, was a problem student - kicked from West Point for poor grades, fired from his job with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey for erratic job attendance, lost his money suing a critic who’d said the so-called “artist” shouldn’t get paid for work that looked as if he’d “thrown a pot of paint on the public’s face.”

But back to Mary’s and my antics:

After Mary and I snapped each other dressed as Mrs. Whistler and viewed the finished photo, I spotted something and told her, “Oh, Oh! The real Whistler’s Mother’s portrait would never have had an electrical outlet on the wall! (Back in 1871, people knew more about static electricity in Leyden jars than about electric juice running through wires.) But maybe viewers won’t notice the anachronism.”

Then I came up with another idea: “Mrs. Whistler looks so prissy-prim - do suppose she ever got down on her knees and scrubbed floors?”

“Why don’t you do that?” Mary giggled. “I’ve always thought you’re a bit off your rocker anyway!”

By the way, that old idiom, “You’re off your rocker,” dates back to the mid-1800s when mentally unstable people were likened to a rocking chair missing one of its rockers; thus Mrs. Whistler would’ve known what that implied!

In 1934, the postal department honored the American artist posthumously by using his famous painting on a 34-cent U. S. stamp. As for Whistler’ original painting, it now hangs on a wall at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

So, if you can’t personally travel to Paris for Mother’s Day to see that painting for yourself, you’ll simply have to settle for looking at these reproductions.

©2015 Isabel Torrey, a long-time columnist who resides in King City..

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