With many of us unable to see our mums this Mothering Sunday due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), Alice Strang, a Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, looks at some of the works which examine motherhood from childbirth to Grandmotherhood in the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection.
Romance of 1920 is an exceptional self-portrait, in which Cecile Walton depicts herself half-naked in bed, holding up her newborn son Edward; she is tended to by a midwife whilst her older son, Gavril, watches on. Romance reveals Walton’s attempts to ‘reconcile career and domestic life’ as she later wrote, in a frank depiction of the joys and challenges of motherhood. This can be identified with by many, particularly given the current challenge of mothers ‘working from home’.
Being the mother of school-age children is addressed by Mabel Pryde Nicholson in The Grange, Rottingdean of c.1912. Her daughter, the artist Nancy Nicholson, and her son, the architect Kit Nicholson, are seen in the former vicarage where the family was living at the time. Nancy is shown seated and in profile, caught in a moment of contemplation. Kit is seen through a doorway, wearing a Glengarry cap, his activity arrested in a ‘hands on hip’ pose. May this image of childhood stillness give hope to the mothers who are already, or are just about to begin, home schooling.
Mark Gertler’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother of 1924, is a loving but unsentimental homage to his mother’s strength. The tenderness of the handling of her facial features contrasts with the robust figure which fills the chair in which she is depicted. Her muscular hands are splayed out across her lap, their only adornment her wedding and engagement rings. This image of unflamboyant devotion was to be the final portrait Gertler made of his mother.
Grandmotherhood is addressed by John Bellany in The Bereaved One of 1968. His recently widowed grandmother, Mrs Maltman, is seen sitting up in bed, an open Bible before her. Using a sharply-cropped square format , the matriarch of the family looks straight at us, dignified and serene even in such an intimate setting. Love, respect and an underlying concern about her age are combined in an image which is particularly moving given the current vulnerability of the over-70s.
Happy Mothering Sunday.