Picture perfect: Celebrate moms in works of art at the Dayton Art Institute

Looking for an artistic way to spend Mother’s Day? A stroll through the galleries of the Dayton Art Institute will surround you with maternal love.

Jerry Smith, chief curator for the Dayton Art Institute, highlighted art works on display with mothers at the heart of them.

“Say what you will about artists, but most of them had mothers, so they like depicting mothers,” Smith said. “It’s an important story of life and of being. It’s a story we can relate to.”

Here are 6 art works featuring mothers on display at the DAI:

“Our Lady Of The Fields No. 4” by George Rouault

The French artist uses abstraction to tell the classical story of The Madonna and Christ Child said Smith, who described the painting as “a tender moment with a human story being told.”

A sense of color creates the halos around their heads and “an almost big singular brush stroke,” creates their limbs in an embrace.

This is “a beautiful modernist design that is tender,” said Smith. The style is “not necessarily the way people think of religious paintings, which makes it both challenging and rewarding.”

“Mother Cradling Baby” by Hugo Robus

This sculpture made of plaster in 1957 is a simplified form of mother and child that suggests it was influenced by modernist art movements, according to DAI research.

Smith describes the child as flexing and pushing into a mother who is “so solid and firm” with her embrace. The mother’s expression is filled with “such tenderness in her face as she looks at her baby.”

“Store Front” by Robert J. Smith

A watchful eye and the protective hand of a mother reach out to steady her child as they are caught in a rush on a busy Dayton street.

This painting, which captures a scene at Rike’s Department Store, is “a terrific slice of life,” said Smith.

Painted in 1933, the scene captures a congested doorway at the downtown store as shoppers enter and exit. Though the artist painted a sturdy little girl in a pink dress and hat, Smith also describes her as “dainty and fabulous.”

“The Fugitive’s Story” by John Rogers

A runaway slave, holding her sleeping child in her arms, describes how she escaped to three prominent abolitionists.

The mother’s “truly life and death story,” is recounted to John Greenleaf Whittier, a poet, Brooklyn clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Lloyd Garrison, the editor of the Boston abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator.

“Portrait of Mrs. Henry Ainslie With Her Son Henry” by George Romney

This intimate portrait of a mother with her child was painted in 1787 as societal attitudes toward children shifted to viewing childhood as a special phase of human existence that placed them at the center of the family’s existence, according to Dayton Art Institute research.

“I see caring and nurturing and a woman very comfortable in her role as the mother of Henry Ainslie,” said Smith.

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“Madonna And Child” by Luca Cambiaso

The image of the Virgin Mary with her son, the Christ Child, is the most common in all of Christian art, according to the DAI. In this painting Mary and a chubby Christ Child are captured in an intimate moment full of feeling.

“Paintings such as this one emphasized the warmth and tenderness between the Virgin Mary and her son,” said Smith.

Children may be depicted in different styles within each of the art works but “the caring and warmth of the mothers is consistent,” said Smith.

“What you find in every single one of these images is the warmth of the mother is there.”


Don’t forget the DAI’s new exhibt, “Monet and Impressionism” opens May 11.

The exhibit, the latest in the DAI’s Centennial Focus Exhibition, provides a spotlight of 13 paintings highlighting Impressionism in France, including works by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Frederick Frieseke and Henri Matisse.

The centerpiece of the Focus Exhibition will be three works by Monet: the DAI's own Waterlilies (1903), the 1903 oil painting Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect (effect de soleil), on loan from the Denver Art Museum, and the pastel Sainte-Adresse, View Across the Estuary (about 1865–1870), on loan from a private collection. Monet and Impressionism will also offer a rare opportunity to see the DAI's delicate Degas pastel, After the Bath.


Where: The Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton

When: The Dayton Art Institute is open Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Extended hours on Thursday until 8 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday

Admission: The Dayton Art Institute asks all visitors to pay a suggested admission fee. Anyone unable to contribute the suggested admission will be welcomed to the museum's permanent collection galleries free of charge.

Suggested general admission to The Dayton Art Institute’s permanent collection: Adults: $8; seniors (60+), active military and groups: $5; college students (18+ with ID): free; youth & children (17 and under): free and members are also free.

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