Whistler’s Mother review – a painting that’s not what it seems

A meticulous study of Anna Whistler, by Daniel E Sutherland and Georgia Toutziari, is a treasure trove of odd information

Over the last century and a half Whistler’s mother has been having a high old time. Perhaps 1934 was the giddiest year: Cole Porter name-checked her in “You’re the Top” while the US government put her on a postage stamp to celebrate Mother’s Day.

More recently the playwright Edward Bond turned her into the devil in a wheelchair in Grandma Faust, while in 1997 Rowan Atkinson gurned in front of her as Mr Bean. Whenever Whistler’s Mother (its official title is Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1) tours the world, gallery crowds flock to stare at the elderly, seated figure staring enigmatically into the middle distance.

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