Thursday, 25 October 2012
Many Mothers Have Retired Here
Many mothers have retired here, says Sam Taylor… Whistler’s included
By Sam TaylorDespite being a member of the artistic elite, James McNeill Whistler plastered the walls of his London home with unpaid bills and when he moved home, his bailiffs moved with him. Renowned for his 'salons', the debt collectors helped serve his potential clients (the real servants having long departed). When one visitor complimented him on their efficiency he said: 'I assure you, they would never leave me.'
Whistler's mother on the other hand was the very picture of probity, as evidenced in the now famous portrait Whistler's Mother – although its actual title is the much-less-catchy Arrangement In Grey And Black No 1. Anna McNeill Whistler is buried in Hastings Borough cemetery, one of the few reasons to go there besides the obvious. On her white gravestone
her son had inscribed: Blessed are they who have/not seen/And yet have believed.
She lived for the last fi ve years of her life at 43 St Mary's Terrace, high above the town and looking down on my (our) house. It is a sweeping Regency terrace, white stuccoed and just imposing enough to be important but not too imposing
enough as to attract too much attention. Edward VII allegedly had a mistress living at the top of the street and rumour has it he would use the excuse of going to visit Whistler's mother to cover his trysts. Whistler himself would visit occasionally, not that there is any real trail of his existence here. Did he go to the local pub? Did he rest on the bench on top of the West Hill in front of his mum's house? Regardless, the mere fact that one of the art world's most famous faces
parked his mother in that road has since swayed many a property sale.
When she died in January 1881 he was devastated and borrowed £50 to get back the famous portrait he had pawned. It was his friend, Degas, who changed his fortunes by exhibiting the painting in Paris, where it eventually ended up at its resting place in the Louvre.
Historians say that he never forgave himself for not being here enough, but by all accounts his mother liked Hastings. Certainly she never sent postcards begging to go back to bohemian Chelsea. And the portrait is visual testament to his devotion. Once, after being complimented on its beauty he replied: 'Yes. One does like to make one's mummy as nice as possible!'
Next week: Winter is wet for fish.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920
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