n°186/ Big Mothers

September 2015

by Nathalie Azoulai

Did you happen to know that some sacred painted mother reigns over American culture that has nothing to do with Virgin Mary? And it reigns so much that it's pretty hard for an American to tell, let alone a foreigner. James Whistler's austere almighty mother was some kind of a moral icon that has been inspiring loads of still and moving images from ads to, for instance, the last picture of Hitchcock's Psycho: when miserable Norman Bates finally states that "a boy's best friend is his mother, showing white hands coming out of a dark blanket, he hints to Whistler's mum that shines over American values like a dark sun. Opposite to Saul Bass who advised him to shoot Perkins in profile to imitate the painting, Hitchcock gave the hint its specific terror while shot frontally...If you wish to note it yourself, just go to the Clark in Williamstown, Massachussetts, before September 27, or just wait for the painting to be back to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France.

 James McNeill Whistler