I love you, Mom! Art Favorites for Mother’s Day
As the winter season turns to spring, we celebrate and welcome the renewal of life: new seedlings are sprouting up from the soil, the chirping of baby birds fills the air, and all around us in the natural world is a sense of hope and rebirth. And from that place we acknowledge the ones who nurture, nourish, and give life: mothers! Mamas, moms, mothers. We acknowledge the human mothers, the animal mothers, the plants that birth new growth, and our shared, sacred Mother Earth.
When you think of “mom,” you may bring to mind the person who birthed you, someone who raised you, a grandparent, step-parent, aunt, or even a friend, teacher, or mentor who made you feel whole. Whether for Mother’s Day, a birthday, or as a gesture of gratitude you may honor that person with the classic gift of flowers, quality time spent together, a special note or poem, or maybe even your homemade art from the heart. You never know, your Mother’s Day art could end up on display on the refrigerator!
You may be a mother yourself, of children, animals, or of a creative project or business venture.
And mothers have long been honored in the arts in many ways; mothering takes many beautiful forms. Mothering comes in all shapes, sizes, and styles, and so, too, does the myriad ways in which they are represented. There are sculptures of pregnant bodies, paintings of women with children, photographs of flowers for Mother’s Day, and depictions of the challenges, messiness, and heartache that goes along with the wild act of mothering.
The following pieces of art are all art created by women. Some are of images of Mother Nature, as we honor that which nourishes us with food, water, and beauty, that which holds us and supports all life. Some are depictions of mothers mothering. Some show babies, children, and childhood. As you view the following images and artists, notice who comes into your mind. You may even consider celebrating them with a gift of museum art!
Our Favorite Prints Celebrating Motherhood
Flowers are a quintessential symbol of fertility and life, especially at springtime. Giving bouquets and blooms for Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday as it sometimes referred to, has a few origin stories. According to Bents Garden and Home in the UK, “Mothering Sunday became established as a holiday for servants who were given leave from their employers to visit their mothers. They would gather fresh flowers on their journey home and give them as a gift. It is because of this that flowers are the most popular Mothering Sunday gift.” In the United States, Mother’s Day is credited to the activism of Anna Jarvis who honored her own mother in the late 1800s and early 1900s by campaigning for recognition for mothers. She wore and gave out carnations to honor mothers.
Mother’s Day was recognized as a national holiday in the United States by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Mothers are celebrated around the world with special foods, ceremonies, and traditions.
The black and white photograph Mother’s Day Daisies by Dorothea Lange, taken in 1931, is another offering of flowers for mom. Lange herself was mother to two sons.
Painted in 1939, this classic Georgia O’Keeffe oil on canvas Hibiscus with Plumeria is reminiscent of a long-standing tradition of offering flowers to celebrate mom.
Artist Betty LaDuke has traveled widely and her work tells the stories of people linked to the land and to their communities. Here, she depicts women selling roasted corn in Cameroon, Africa. Corn is considered to be nourishing to both the body and the soul and its many kernels can symbolize fertility and rebirth. LaDuke’s daughter Winona, who is Mississippi Band of Anishinaabe Indians through her father, is an internationally respected Native American environmental leader, author, politician, and economist. Winona started a heritage farm with corn, beans, wild rice, squash, tobacco seeds, and hemp on the White River Reservation where she lives.
Jessie Willcox Smith often depicted mothers in traditional caretaking roles. Titles such as A Mother Soothing a Small Baby and Mother Helps with the ABCs are representative. Smith painted many depictions of mothers and children and the images are often serene with warm tones, bringing to mind a sense of intimacy between parent and child.
Elizabeth Nourse also pays homage to the early stages of childhood with the 1888 Realism-style painting La Mere (The Mother) and the 1906 graphite and watercolor Mother and Three Children.
Berthe Morisot, too, honors the maternal bonds between mothers and infants, toddlers, and young ones. In The Cradle, an 1872 oil painting of her sister Edma and niece Blanche, and the 1873 work Portrait of Mme Boursier and Her Daughter, of other relatives, Morisot alludes to the admiring nature of mother-child connections.
Similarly, the 1789 oil painting, Madame Vigée-LeBrun and her Daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, a self-portrait by and of Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun and her own daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise, portrays tenderness and affection between a mom and her young child.
Lilly Martin Spencer reminds us of the importance of co-parenting and the communal aspects of mothering. In the self-portrait of her family, Conversation Piece, Spencer centers the nuclear family of mom, dad, and child.
Marisol Escobar was a Venezuelan-American artist, born in Paris to affluent, Venezuelan parents and is best known for her sculptural work with wood and various items. In 1941 when Marisol was only 11 years old, her mother passed away suddenly. This work, Mi Mama Y Yo (“My Mother and I” in English) was obviously very important to her, yet she never sold it before she passed away in 2016. After this piece, Marisol did not create any new sculptures for more than five years.
And it is equally important to treat moms like queens! Whether on Mother’s Day, their birthday, for a special occasion, or any day of the week, moms deserve the best. This 1787 Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun oil painting of Marie-Antoinette and her young family literally depicts a queen. This painting also shows an empty cradle, reminding the public of the recent death of their daughter. There is loss inherent in motherhood, whether through miscarriage, growing up, death, or navigating the changes in identity inherent in becoming a mother.
And what would an article on motherhood be without at least one print from artist Mary Cassatt? In her many portraits of mothers and their children, Cassatt was praised for her ability to capture the intimacy and tenderness of these moments without indulging in the overbearing sentimentality that other artworks of the subject matter followed. In this print a mother sits in a floral armchair in her bedroom, holding the baby up to her chest whose arms are wrapped around her neck. Nothing says motherhood like the tender embrace of a child.
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