Ron Mueck Mother and Child, 2003
Mother and Child (2003) can be seen as a logical complement to Mueck’s celebrated Dead Dad(1996–97). It was his first work to show more than a single figure and forms part of a trio of sculptures about motherhood, which includes Pregnant Woman (2002; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and Woman with Shopping (2014). The artist was present at the birth of both of his daughters, which undoubtedly informed his treatment of a subject which, while drawing on the autobiographical, attains universal significance. As Justin Paton writes, ‘Both Pregnant Woman and Mother and Childcommunicate a distinctively male awe at what a woman’s body can make and carry’ (Paton, 2013, p. 35). The mother is not a portrait of any specific person but rather an imaginary type, with details of her anatomy drawn from life and medical textbooks.
Mueck created Mother and Child during the course of his artist residency at the National Gallery in London, where he was invited to respond to works in the permanent collection. As in Baby (2000), he translates the traditional art-historical theme of the Madonna and Child into a contemporary and secular context. ‘When Mary and the newborn Christ Child are depicted, the two characters are usually shown as having already formed a bond’, writes Colin Wiggins, ‘either the conventional mother-and-child relationship of mutual affection and care, or a demonstration of religious devotion. Mueck’s sculpture shows the mother-child bond being formed in front of our eyes: the child arrived just seconds ago’ (Wiggins, 2003, p. 24).