James Whistler was a notorious formalist, who’s pursuit of art for art’s sake led to his portraiture taking on monumental form. Here, his mother blurs the line between foreground and background in a strict composition of right angles, mirrored by her frighteningly severe expression. The piece’s formal title, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, expressly defines the work as an art object, rather than a representation of a specific person. Naturally, this confused and perturbed its Victorian era audience, so Whistler consented to a subtitle: Portrait of the Painter’s mother. Either way, this woman was clearly not to be trifled with.