Not My Mother Says Whistler

 The artist who painted in shades of gray.

 

Down and Out

 

Things were looking pretty bleak for Jammin’ Jack Whistler.  For one, he lost his “real job” as a fortune cookie writer to an immigrant Portuguese penguin.  For another, he was three months past due on the rent for his one-room hovel, which was located in one of London’s poorest districts, and the rent had just shot up another quid.  But to top all that, his favorite and really only model, Gertrude Marilee Tootinheimer Bo Bannabanna Hotpatoody was nowhere to be found.

 

Where Is She?

 

Jammin’ Jack had his suspicions.  Ever since he made the mistake of introducing “Gertie” to his best friend Bart “Bo Danglebangle” Bartholomew, the two were practically inseparable.  Now, it’d been two weeks since he’d since either.  ‘Drat,’ thought Jack. ‘I really need a poser and she was the best.

 

I Got Nothing

 

The truth was, even if she did show up, it was going to take a miracle to come up with a decent painting.  After all, with money so tight, his painting supplies had dwindled down to nothing.  As far as his colors went, all he had left was a single dab of green tint and an even smaller splotch of pink that he’d have to mix with something else if he was going to paint anything of consequence.  Equally depressing, except for one 57 x 64 inch canvas, two ratty paintbrushes, a full bucket of white paint and a half-full one of black, that was basically it as far as his supplies were concerned..

 

There was no arguing that things looked bleak for Jack. What he needed most was a bit of inspiration.  If he was ever going to claw his way out of the dark hole of his despair, he had to come up with something great—some new method for painting that would take advantage of his limited paint color options.  Plus, it had to be good enough to qualify at the Royal Academy of Art’s 104th Exhibition in London if he was ever going to have a prayer at turning his passion into a paying profession.

 

Jack was thoroughly disheartened. ‘What’s the point?’ he thought as he slumped down further in his one and only chair.  The chair was all wood and very uncomfortable.  Besides the bed and his table, it was the only furniture he had left after he chopped up the rest to use as firewood.

 

Unexpected Visitor

 

Jack was about as low as he’d ever been when he heard the knock.  At first, he considered ignoring it in case it was his landlord, Studs Puddleduker, looking to collect.  Yet after he realized the tapping going on was much too soft for old Studs, he pulled himself up, waddled to the door and swung it wide.

 

“Jack!” yelled Anna Strictpuddle Wherestheparty Pimplynoseblossom Whistler Horner, as she flung herself into his arms.  Anna was Jack’s oldest cousin thrice removed.  “Oh, Jack, it’s so good to see you!”  Always being one for enthusiastic greetings she then proceeded to give him a big kiss square on the beak, before ruffling up his head feathers.

 

 

Jack was a bit put off by her sudden appearance.  Anna would show up from time to time out of the blue like this, and she’d always be so full of energy and laughter, and dressed up in such outrageously colored outfits like this athletic gear she had on. It was a lot to take in, especially when one was feeling as down as he did in the moment.

 

As Anna stepped back to give Jack a once over with her big and dreamy brown eyes, she could tell right away that her typically gloomy cousin was worse off than usual—a cousin who she’d just happened to have a huge crush on for years.  ‘It’s a good thing I’ve come,’ she thought as she bent over to pick up the large bag of dried cranberries she’d brought along to share.  As she straightened, she popped one in her mouth and started chewing.  “So…Jack…mmpfh…are you going to invite your favorite cousin in or do I have to stand here all day on your doorstep?”

 

Still feeling a bit off balance, Jack shuffled backward and motioned her inside.  Anna, of course, couldn’t resist and gave him a pinch on the cheek as she waddled in past him.

 

Overwhelmed

 

Now, truth be told, Jammin’ Jack liked the cranberries he was offered as much as the next duck probably would.  Plus, he usually enjoyed his older, and still remarkably well-proportioned cousin’s visits.  However, the fact that his model “Gertie” was nowhere to be found at such a pivotal moment in his art career was without doubt the subject of his focus.  ‘What am I going to do without Gertie?’ he wondered.

 

Anna could read Jack’s face like an open book.  She’d spent enough time with him to know when his love for painting wasn’t panning out.  “So whatcha working on?” she asked as she popped another cranberry in her mouth and glanced around his cozy one-room hovel looking for his latest project.

 

“I’ve got nothing,” he moaned.  “Gertie’s run off, I’m about out of paint and I’ve got to come up for entry in the Academy’s Art Exhibition or I might as well hang up my brushes.”

 

“Oh, you poor dear,” Anna cooed as dropped her bag of cranberries on the table and rushed to pull him close in a warm feathered hug.

 

“Gosh, Anna, I don’t know what to do,” he said, as tears welled in his eyes.

 

She nodded sympathetically, and then pushed his beak down until it was buried deep in her breast feathers.

 

“Ihmm neehfhfph Gurredie!” he said, though it was too muffled to hear.

 

“There, there,” she soothed.  “I’m sure we can come up with something if we put our heads together.  Here…let me kiss those tears away…that’s it…mmm…mmm…mmm…there, now, don’t you feel better?”

 

Time To Make My Move

 

‘I know I feel better,’ thought Anna as she envisioned her would-be rival, the gorgeous and much younger Gertie, never returning to Jack’s hovel.  It was the opening she’d long hoped for, but had never expected to arrive.  Darn tootin’ she was going to take advantage of it!  She’d just have to impress Jack, that’s all.  She’d have to show him she had the “right stuff” to be the source of his inspiration.

 

“Oh, Jack…oh, dearest Jack…I’m so sorry about Gertie.  Don’t worry though.  I’m sure she’ll come around again soon.  Meanwhile, why don’t you act like the nice younger cousin you normally are and pour me a tall glass of wine?  Chardonnay, please.  After that, you can paint my portrait.”

 

A Favor For A Favor

 

Jack was hardly in the mood for wine, but Anna’s offer to sit for a portrait was as good as anything he’d come up with.  After downing a glass of wine for himself, he handed her one and then set his one and only canvas on his easel.  “Okay, cousin,” he sighed, “where would you like me to paint you?”

 

‘If only you knew,’ she thought, flashing him her best smile.

 

The Shape Of Things To Come

 

As it turned out, Anna, who was by most standards still an attractive duckess in her mid-thirties was actually just a few years older than Jack.  In fact, she was in great shape and had just finished competing in a 10K Triathlon—the Waddle/Paddle/Fly out at Dozer’s Pond.  That’s why she happened to be in the neighborhood.  As she drained her wine glass, she suddenly spotted Jack’s bed.  “Oh, that looks delightful.  I’m pooped, you know?  I just finished my race.  I came in 1st in my division.  Aren’t you proud of me?  Mind if I lay down a minute while you’re doing that?”

 

Jack was distracted with his canvas.  One corner was curling up and refused to stay put.  “Not at all,” he replied without turning to look.  “I’ve got to get this…stupid…canvass…to…straighten out…go ahead…and…grrrrr…make yourself comfortable, while I find something to tack this sucker down.”

 

Jack’s words were music to Anna’s fluffy feathered ears.  With the grace of a Swan she kicked off her shoes, yanked her running shorts straight to the floor and pulled her tank top over her head.  As she leaped for the ceiling, spread her wings and glided down to Jack’s mattress, she envisioned the wilder partying days of youth.  Something in it gave her the courage to pitch her voice low.  “Hey, big guy…how about doing an up close, full-frontal feathered portrait of me, right over here?”

 

As Jack glanced up his eyes went wide in shock. This is not what he expected!  “Anna!  Your clothes!” he gulped.  He turned away, uncomfortably.  “I…uh…gosh, Anna.  I don’t…I uh…what the heck are you doing?”

 

We’re Not Victorians

 

“I’m posing,” she laughed as stood up on the bed, spread her wing feathers wide and wiggled her tail feathers.  “Look at me.”

 

“But that’s not…but I didn’t…but you…but…but…”

 

“Oh, Jack, give it a rest.  You’re an artist, right?  Don’t you paint Gertie like this all the time?”

 

“Yes, but…s-s-she’s not my cousin!”

 

“Don’t be silly, Jack.  In terms of relations, we’re so far removed, we’re hardly cousins at all.  Besides, we’re ducks.  Even if this 1871, we don’t have the silly Victorian hang ups those humans do.”

 

“But…but…but…”

 

“Come here, Jackie Baby.  Come to mama, now.  Just tell me what you want me to do.  I’ve been waiting for this moment forever.  Show me what you need.  I’m all yours.”

 

Jack stood straight, crossed his wings and shook his head.  “No, I can’t.”

 

“Can’t or won’t?”

 

“I can’t…it wouldn’t be right.”

 

“You poop!”  Suddenly incensed, Anna jumped back off the bed, picked up one of her racing shoes and flung it at his head.  Jack ducked in the nick of time, but the shoe knocked over his easel, ricocheted off the corner of the table and slammed into the side of his white paint bucket.  The force was just enough.  Anna and Jack both watched in horror as the can slowly tipped over and spilled the half-full black paint can beside it, too.

 

“My paint!” Jack cried.

 

“Oh, no!” Anna sobbed as she rushed over to put things right.

 

Shades of Gray

 

Anna getting the worst of it.

Poor Anna was covered in shades of gray.

The paint was rapidly spreading across the floor.  Anna immediately set the two cans upright trying to salvage the small amount of paint still inside them.  Then she grabbed a couple of dish rags she had spotted on the table and tried to sop up the mess.  It was no use.  She’d gather up the paint in one spot, but then it would start seeping somewhere else.  To add to her burden, she realized the easel had fallen face down and the canvas was also soaking up paint.  In no time, she and everything around her was a complete and total mess.  There were shades of gray all over her duck feathers, the floor, the rags and her shoe.

 

Meanwhile, Jack could only watch and stare with a kind of rapt fascination as he envisioned the end of his art career.  Anna’s frantic ministrations might have been funny on another day, but she was covered from beak to tail with the far too precious commodity of his profession.  What was he going to do without paint?

 

At last, Anna seemed to realize the futility of her efforts and just lay back on the floor spent.  She was exhausted and began weeping.  As she realized she was still unclothed she pulled the easel, which still held the now paint soaked canvas on top of her.  The day was a disaster.  Jack would never be able to forgive her.  All was lost.

 

“That’s it!” Jack cried out, unexpectedly.  “Stay there a second, Anna.  I think I’ve got something.”

 

Anna looked up confused as Jack began waddling in a large circle all around her, but she recognized the look.  It was his all important critical art eye he was aiming at her.  Could it be there was still a way to salvage this?

 

Jack suddenly clapped his hands and shouted.  “Woohoo!  Yes, I think this is going to work.  Here, Anna, I want you to get up and then sit over in the chair here.  Take that rag and wrap it around your head.  Hmm…yes…let me put this old crate under your feet, because otherwise they’ll dangle.  No, be still.  Just sit there…like that…chin up a bit and look straight ahead.  Try not to move, would you.  That’s it…”

 

Though she complied with every one of his expert instructions she glanced wistfully at the bed.  “Are you sure I couldn’t lay down for this?” she asked when he seemed momentarily uncertain of something.

 

The uncertainly clouding his brow vanished as quickly as it appeared.  He shook his head with an emphatic no, and then brought the paint soaked canvas back around for her to see.  “No…look here.  You see the canvas?  I can use it as is, which is a darn good thing as I don’t have another one.  You see this…I’ve already got all the gray tones I need for the background on it, and with just a little bit of fine-tuning, I can make this side the curtain near your feet, and make that part there the wall behind the chair. Yes, this is perfect.”

 

Anna’s big brown eyes oozed concerned.  “But I’ll be gray, right?  I’ll look like an old lady this way.  They’ll say you painted your mother.”

 

“Nonsense,” Jack scoffed.  “This is going to be an entirely new style of painting.  All the critics will care about is the technique I’m using here…they’ll love it.  The subject matter is irrelevant.  You could be anyone.”

 

“Irrelevant!” Anna spat.  It took all her will to keep from lurching out of the chair and going for his throat.  “I am not irrelevant,” she snarled under her breath.

 

“Sure you are,” he said absently re-draping the paint-soaked dish rag across her brow.  “Hush, now,” he said as he picked up his brush.  “I need to concentrate.”

 

Poor Anna was seething inside and stared straight ahead with drops of gray ooze sliding down her beak.  True, she felt terrible for the mess she’d created, but the last thing she’d ever accept from Jack, or any other duck for that matter, was to be considered irrelevant.  As she sat there and started shivering, she barely noticed as Jack dragged a sheet across the remainder of the paint on the floor and then arranged it all about her.  She knew right then she’d get even with him somehow.

 

“So Jack…how’s that other artist friend of yours? You know, the one with the same last name?”

 

Though he didn’t mean to, Jack felt his lips curl down in a scowl.  “You mean James Whistler? The human?”

 

“Yes, that’s right,” Anna nodded as a conversation she and Jack had a couple months ago started rushing back.

 

“I’m not talking to him anymore.”

 

“Oh?  Why’s that?”

 

“Because he copied my last three paintings and then said they were original.”

 

“Oh, did he?  How awful.” And after that, with her plan firmly set she never said another word as he finished up his painting.

 

◊ ◊ ◊

Is it or isn't it Whistler's Mother?

◊ ◊ ◊

 

A Woman Scorned

 

So how did Anna Strictpuddle Wherestheparty Pimplynoseblossom Whistler Horner like Jack’s painting when all was said and done?  She hated it.  It was exactly what she feared it would be—she looked like an old gray duck lady.  ‘Irrelevant!’ she snarled. ‘Just you wait, Jammin’ Jack!’

 

Poor Jack.  Not only was that the very last he saw of Anna, but it turns out she took the painting, went straight to James Whistler (the human artist), gave it to him and told him to go ahead and copy to his heart’s content.

 

Though Jack did eventually recover his painting, the Academy ridiculed it and he ended up having to pawn it to cover his rent.

 

Jack’s luck finally changed for the better years later when his long lost painting turned up in a Paris museum.  By then it was being copied for its technique left and right, so at last he was able to attract a number of wealthy patrons.  Though Jack appreciated the business, his own arrogance kept coming back to haunt him:  It turns out Anna was at least partially right as everyone always wanted to know why he had painted his mother.

 

For other startling duck history, you may also want to visit our
Famous Ducks Of History page.

 

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