THE ORIGINAL WHISTLER’S MOTHER AT THE MUSEE D’ORSAY IN PARIS
Why do we preserve the childhood homes of famous people? I remember visiting the Edgar Degas House in New Orleans which was nice but nothing much really. Then someone told me he lived there for only a few months and I became a little peeved, why make this place a museum? Now I’ve discovered that 19th C. artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler has a similar home/museum called the Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell, MA. Apparently he was born there but only lived there for the first few years of his life. What’s the point?
Then there’s this odd paragraph in the House Museum’s website outlining one special work in the museum’s second floor installation:
Apres James McNeil Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black (1906), Oil on canvas, by Edith Fairfax Davenport, a cousin of Whistler. This is an exact scale model of the original painting which, it is said, heralded modern art. The original is worth approximately $30 million and hangs in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.
Am I suppose to be impressed by the value of the original when I’m looking at a copy of Whistler’s Mother? It is disappointing that the Whistler Museum has no original paintings by its namesake and only 20 of his 450 etchings.
Why don’t major museums adopt sites like this? I’m sure the Met, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts or the Smithsonian has a stash of Whistlers somewhere that haven’t seen the light of day in ages (Whistler isn’t exactly the most popular artist nowadays). Wouldn’t it be a good idea for a big city institution to reach out beyond its urban borders and attract a new potential audience? Perhaps if more museums attempted this type of thing we wouldn’t need to worry about fate of federal funding for the arts every few years when politicians try to score (and usually do) easy points with culturally conservative voters by ragging on big city cultural elites. Granted Lowell isn’t a hotbed of culturally conservative voices but I’m sure there are similar institutions in states with lesser cultural resources.
Note: The webpage I cited is also cached here.