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Pasadena to get 'Whistler's Mother' in Norton Simon-Musée d'Orsay swap

Whistler's 'Portrait of the Artist's Mother' heading to Norton Simon in exchange with Musee d'Orsay in Paris

James Abbott McNeill Whistler's iconic 1871 painting "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1," better known as "Portrait of the Artist's Mother," is coming to Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum in March as part of an exchange with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the museum announced Wednesday.

The first-time collaboration between the museums will see three 19th century masterpieces from the Norton Simon traveling to the Musée d’Orsay, while three paintings from the Paris museum will visit Pasadena. The six paintings will be on display simultaneously March 27 to June 22.

"We went back and forth about the kinds of pictures we wanted to show," said Carol Togneri, Norton Simon's chief curator, about discussions between Norton Simon President Walter W. Timoshuk and D'Orsay President Guy Cogeval. "Both decided it was important to give the public a sense of what each museum had in its 19th century collection."

The other representatives from the D'Orsay are Édouard Manet’s "Emile Zola," 1868, and Paul Cézanne’s "The Card Players," circa 1892–96.

The Norton Simon will send Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s "The Pont des Arts, Paris," 1867–68; Vincent van Gogh’s "Portrait of a Peasant (Patience Escalier)," 1888; and Édouard Vuillard’s "First Fruits," 1899, to Paris.

The Whistler is an especially important image for Americans, Togneri said.

"It's a piece that, surprisingly, never has lived in the United States," she said.

The painting went to the Louvre after Whistler's death and moved to the D'Orsay when that museum opened in 1986.

"It's a picture that was painted in England and eventually went to France, but it's through-and-through an American approach to painting in a sort of Puritan way -- one that will stand out from the others in its simplicity," Togneri said.

When it debuts at Norton Simon, the Whistler will have a wall to itself in the 19th century wing, flanked by the Manet and the Cézanne. The latter two will be accompanied by two additional paintings by the artists from the Norton Simon's collection.

Visitors can purchase timed tickets for an optimal viewing experience beginning in January.

"I think the Parisian hearts will break when they see how beautifully Renoir has painted the Pont des Arts," Togneri said. "It's something that they pass by every day and the painting will likely bring tears to their eyes."

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