Motherly Moments in Art History
Motherhood is a theme that has been portrayed throughout many different cultures and time periods. In honor of the upcoming holiday, I wanted to share a few of my favorite interpretations and dedications to mothers.
Kate and Rachel Van Der Zee, Lenox Mass., James Van Der Zee, 1907, photograph
The photographer James Van Der Zee (1886-1983), is an artist who I discovered in college, and was immediately captured by his body of work chronicling black New Yorkers during the Harlem Renaissance. This photograph of his first wife Kate, and their daughter Rachel was taken in his hometown of Lenox, Mass. There is a tenderness to the photograph that feels so intimate and personal, and like so much of Van Der Zee’s work, I find it so compelling and moving.
Mother and Child, Fernand Leger, 1922
Fernand Henri Léger (1881-1955) was a French painter, sculptor and filmmaker, who created his own type of Cubism in the early 20th century. While he embraced the customary fractured objects and geometric shapes that one typically sees in a Cubist work, he was also interested in depicting the illusion of three-dimensionality, as well as portraying the human form, but in a robot or machine-like way. While his style changed over time, his work stayed consistently graphic, opting for primary colors, bold forms, and patterns.
Maternité, Joan Miró, 1924
Spanish painter Joan Miró (1893-1983) also created his own radically distinctive visual language, which over time became increasingly more abstracted.Considered to be one of the leading figures of Surrealism, he was never officially part of the group, and devoted his career to exploring and upending prevailing notions of representation and expression. He used color and forms in a symbolic manner, developing intricate compositions with recurring imagery such as birds, eyes, and the moon, and the theme of Mother and Child was something that he explored repeatedly throughout his career.
Mama’s Knee, Romare Bearden, 1971
American painter and collagist Romare Bearden (1911-1988) has been one of my favorite artists since I was a child. Bearden created absolutely dazzling work celebrating the black American experience in the early-to-mid-twentieth century, capturing everything from the vibrancy of the Harlem Renaissance to the politically tumultuous 1960s. While he was influenced by modernist masters including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque, Bearden’s collages and paintings were also inspired by African American slave crafts such as patchwork quilts and making artwork from whatever materials were accessible.
Bedtime Story, March Avery, 1989
March Avery (b. 1932) is the daughter of two painters, Milton Avery and Sally Michel, and began painting as a small child. Taking great inspiration from both of her parents, Avery’s style of her work continues what art historian Robert Hobbs has called the “Avery style” - flat picture planes, interlocking shapes and a simplicity of forms. That said, Avery has created her own visual language as she uses colors masterfully, and creates compositions that are so poetic in their tenderness and simplicity, capturing quiet domestic moments with family and friends, as well as still lifes and bucolic landscapes. She is another one of my absolute favorites.
Oh the many ways to portray motherhood! I hope you have enjoyed that brief exploration of motherhood in 20th century art.