13 June 2009

Whistler’s Mother’s Cook Book

Typical! Everybody and his mother wants to have a cookbook, even Whistler's mother.

Among the items of James McNeill Whistler, bequeathed to Glasgow University by his sister-in-law, was a small manuscript of recipes, collected by his mother, Anna. Margaret MacDonald, who compiled Whistler’s catalogue raisonné, assembled many of the recipes into the charming document, Whistler's Mother's Cook Book.

Whistler wanted to be an artist but to keep the family happy he followed family tradition to West Point. While excelling in drawing he failed chemistry and was discharged. Whistler said of the incident, “Had silicon been a gas, I would have been a major-general.”

Whistler loved to throw parties, his favorite being breakfast, where he held court and told elaborate stories over food and wine. Whistler would write out the menus and sign them boldly, with his monogram. There are over a hundred such hand-written menus in the collection at Glasgow University.

His mother made fine sugar cookies, often referred to as "cakes."

Sugar Cake

4 cups Sugar, 2 cups Butter, 4 Eggs, and as much flour* as will make them stiff enough to roll.

Beat the sugar and butter together until creamy. Beat in the eggs alternately with the flour to make a light dough. Roll it out on a floured board and cut into shapes with a biscuit cutter. Put the shapes on a greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Cool them immediately on a wire rack. Makes 100.

*As much flour seems to be 5 cups.

With all of his interest in food, Whistler was foremost an artist whose interest in color or the muted lack of color led him to experiment with painting in shades of black and white and grey. His painting Arrangement in Grey and Black was shown in 1872 in London at an Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Art. Thomas Carlyle requested a portrait in a similar pose which was entitled, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 2. the first "Arrangement" became known as Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. While Whistler cared only about the composition and color and paid little attention to his model, her identity would shape the painting and it would become known simply as, Whistler's Mother.

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