Behind every great artist there's a devoted mother
BY ANA ROBLEDANO
I would dare to say that Art History has become an unflagging homage to the figure of mothers. Maternity has not only been seen in the prehistorical venuses, and later in Henry Moore or Louise Bourgeois’ avantgarde sculptures, but can also be seen intermittently in artists’ sensibilities throughout all times. Also, this subject can be seen in the religious themes of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Probably the first image to come to our minds when talking about this could be Joaquín Sorolla’s Madre, one of his most acclaimed works representing his beloved wife Clotilde in a white and spotless bed, radiating light, looking at the son she’s just given birth, his rose face peeping out. The painting speaks for itself. The Valencian painter didn’t get enough painting his wife in her motherly facet, as this women’s aspect turns them into admiration figures. For Sorolla it was his wife, but for a great number of artists, their mothers have become many times their muses.
A clear example is Arshile Gorky who, based on a photography of 1912, he immortalized with his mother in a portrait. They both pose in front of their home in Armenia in a time when the city was suffering a genocide. With the invasion of the Turkish, Gorky had to leave and walk to Rusia with his sister and mother. After many years looking for shelter, Shushan, his mother, died of malnutrition in Gorky’s arms, as she had always yielded all the food for her children. Since then, the artista lived with the permanent memory of her war heroine mother, and encased all of his feelings in this heartbreaking painting.
A similar image of a fighter mother in art history is the famous Migrant mother by Dorothea Lange, which is a real cultural icon. Again we can see a single mother with her kids, worried about bringing them up during the great Depression times. According to Fotomaf, ‘ the mother and its seven children had survived winter eating frozen vegetables. They had just sold their car’s wheels to be able to eat, so they were anchored to the field’.
Another deffender mother in a conflict context was Henry Moore, who adopted the maternity matter as his predilection. His sculptures are women represented as war goddesses, as in his war context mothers and wifes suffered when they had to prostitute herselfs or be abused and later probably losing their husbands or children.
Going back in time we travel to the splendour of the Italian Renaissance with Michelangelo’s Pietá, another questionless speech on mother’s figure.
And again in the concept of muse-mother, a surprising example is Andy Warhol’s. Slovak Julia Warhola was the artist’s great inspiration since he was a kid. Julia had a considerable artistic talent and a special genious for decoration and drawing, attributes her son admire deeply and that brought him develop his career as a designer, and later as an artist. Something similar happened with Picasso, as we learn from his famous quote: ‘When I was a child my mother told me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll be a general; if you become a monk, you'll end up as the Pope.' Instead, I became a painter and ended up as Picasso’.
Another artist who folllowed his mother’s steps was curiously Van Gogh, who didn’t lack of her support to take up painting as she did. A chip off the all block.
However, many artists have used maternity as a recurrent subject in their creations with no need of personal, familiar or historical experiences. A good example would be Gustav Klimt with his well-kown mother and child inspiration for the painting Three ages of woman. This artist, who was more agressive than kind in his painting, couldn’t resist to the lovely subject of motherhood with this scene full of tenderness, love and care emanating from a mother hugging her son. On the other hand, we couldn’t forget to mention Mary Cassatt, who probably beats Sorolla in representing maternity in the Impressionism. The tireless mother portraitist said: ‘There’s only one thing in life for a woman; to be a mother… an artist woman needs to be able to make sacrifices’. It’s said by artists, and it’s said by everybody: Mother there’s only one.