'Whistler's Mother' on display at de Young Museum

May 5, 2010 6:44:29 PM PDT
One of the world's most famous paintings in history is in San Francisco. "Whistler's Mother" is part of an exhibition that opens at the de Young in two weeks. That's when 100 pieces from the Musee D'Orsay in Paris go on display locally.

The heavy foam wrap was cautiously removed to reveal the painting from Paris -- "Whistler's Mother." It is the fourth most recognizable painting in the world. It was last in San Francisco in 1933.

"Americans really latched on to it as an image of dignity, patience, somber quality of motherhood," says European art curator Lynn Orr.

And that is when it achieved its icon status. "Whistler's Mother" was supposed to be about shapes and colors when it was painted in 1871 by James MacNeill Whistler. He was born in America, but he was part of the Avant Garde art movement in France in the 1870's.

This is one of 100 paintings that make up the exhibition "Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces From the Musee D'Orsay" which opens in two weeks.

"Each in their own right were as controversial and as radical as the impressionists. So, it gives us the opportunity to show the richness, the texture, and diversity of what was occurring in the art world at sort of one moment," says the director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, John Buchanan.

The images will seem familiar. It is like a tour through an art book in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The collection came to the de Young while the D'Orsay is refurbished. Getting "Whistlers Mother" and the other works in the Bay Area is no easy feat. Extraordinary precautions are taken in their transportation. Each painting has its own custom case.

"We now employ science in the foam utilization and the crate making is really subject to crash tests and every other kind of experimentation," says museum chief of conservation Bob Futernick.

There were no obvious markings on the crate. That is added security as it flies or is driven. "Whistler's Mother" is in the first of two Musee D'Orsay exhibits beginning May 22.

"That's going to be one of the most wonderful art experiences to stand in that room," says Orr.

By the way, the top three most recognizable paintings in the world are "Mona Lisa," "The Scream" and "The Last Supper."

ABC7 will take a look behind the scenes at The Musee D'Orsay in a special on Saturday May 15 at 7 p.m. on Channel 7. ABC7's Spencer Christian will host the special called "The Musee D'Orsay comes to the de Young."


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