It’s not every day that a masterpiece comes to town, but it’s happening this week.
Iconic American painting “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1” — better known as “Whistler’s Mother” — is in Chicago for the first time in more than 60 years.
Chicago’s Art Institute will play host to the painting, on loan from its permanent home, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. After the Chicago museum loaned “American Gothic” to its French counterpart, the pair agreed “Whistler’s Mother” would come to Chicago.
“Whistler’s Mother” last was in Chicago in 1954; it was featured at the Art Institute alongside work by John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassat. The painting first visited the city in 1933 for the Chicago World’s Fair.
The work, by Massachusetts-born James McNeill Whistler, depicts the artist’s mother, likely in their London home, according to Victoria Sancho Lobis, a curator with the Art Institute.
Lobis said while “Whistler’s Mother” was first in a group of paintings which were “famous for being famous,” it soon after become known in the United States for turning into an icon of motherhood.
Sarah Kelly Oehler, another Art Institute curator, said museum-goers can appreciate “Whistler’s Mother” along with the rest of the museum’s Whistler works, which have been part of the Art Institute’s collection since it opened.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” Oehler said. “If it’s at its home museum, it’s in Paris. And often it travels the world, so in fact, even if you’re in Paris, you might not see it. This is a rare opportunity for people in Chicago to see it.”
Lobis said the Art Institute is part of a group of about four institutions which focus on Whistler. She said the museum has been recognized as one of a very small group of institutions that have Whistler collections at a world-class level.
“This is a very special moment that this was able to work out,” Oehler said. “You can probably count on two hands the most famous paintings in the world. We’re never probably going to get the Mona Lisa.”
But that wasn’t to discount “Whistler’s Mother.”
“This is the American Mona Lisa,” Lobis said.
The exhibition starts Saturday and runs through May 21. Tickets are available at sales.artic.edu. The exhibition is included in the regular museum admission price.