The Tate Gallery Restaurant mural
1926-27, Oil on canvas, detail
© Tate, London 2015
landscape PAINTER
The Palladian Bridge & River, Wilton, Wilts 1942, Oil on canvas, 35cm x 45 cm,
Collection The Salisbury Museum mural PAINTER
Whistler's career as a muralist began when he was still a student at the Slade School of Art which he attended from the age of 17 to 21. With the rapturous reception given to his first major commission in the Tate Gallery restaurant in 1927, many more projects flowed from eager patrons keen to have such a distinguished young artist create murals for their grand houses. Murals were very much in vogue during the inter-war period and Whistler's fashionable clients included Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten, Sir Duff and Lady Diana Cooper, Sir Philip Sassoon and Sir Henry 'Chips' Channon. Perhaps Whistler's most famous mural is the 56ft long tour de force in the dining room at Plas Newydd (below), for the Marquess of Anglesey, shown right with the artist at work

 Click on the picture above of the Plas Newydd Mural, to see a larger horizontal scrolling version



portrait PAINTER Rex produced over fifty portraits in oils during the course of his career, together with numerous pencil studies. These ranged from more formal and traditional paintings to informal sketches, often done on the spur of the moment and usually given to the friend depicted.
His strength in portraiture developed as he matured with his most successful work in the genre carried out whilst he was in the Welsh Guards during the war.
The Entrance Gates to the Daye House, Wilton, Wilts
1940, oil on board, 26 x 36 cm,
collection of The Salisbury Museum This sketch portrait is of Edith Olivier (1872-1948) writer and inspiring hostess, who was Rex Whistler's close friend and muse. His regular visits to her home at the Daye House introduced the young artist to the architectural delights of Wilton House and its park. The famous Palladian Bridge at Wilton became a favourite theme appearing in much of Whistler's work. Inset photograph shows Edith by the Palladian Bridge.
click to enlarge ﷯ STAGE DESIGNER
The Rake's Progress Design for Drop Curtain
1942, sepia ink and wash, 38cm x 55 cm,
Royal Opera House collections The Rake's Progress Ballet was the creation of Ninette de Valois, with music composed by Gavin Gordon, the story inspired by Hogarth's 1773 moral paintings. Whistler's feeling for the 18th Century made him the ideal designer for the production. In fact he designed it twice.
The original 1935 designs were lost while Sadlers Wells were touring in the war, Whistler then recreated the designs in 1942 Inset photograph shows principal dancers in front of 1935 curtain
click to enlarge
House and ruined tower on cliff
14cm x 10cm Indian ink on white scraperboard, illustration from The Emperor Heart by Laurence Whistler (1936) Rex's romantic imagination found expression in his illustrations for all types of literature. Here a Gothic inspired image was used to accompany one of his brother's poems. His technique involved using white scraperboard, which gave an effect similar to wood engraving but much quicker, an important consideration for such a busy artist.
GRAPHIC ARTIST The burgeoning world of advertising between the wars was one for which Whistler's ready wit was ideally suited. One of his biggest clients was Shell petroleum, and amongst his diverse designs for them were a clever series of 'reversible faces' for press campaigns. These ingenious caricatures display a different face depending on which way up they are viewed and have recently become popular amongst students of perception.

Self-Portrait in Uniform
1940, oil on canvas, 71 x 58cm, National Army Museum This is Rex’s most famous self-portrait, painted on the day his uniform arrived. He is recording a moment of sombre reflection, no turning back, but this is lightened by the glass in his hand and the sense of normal life going on around him on a sunny afternoon in Regents Park. It is telling that his paintbrushes occupy a much more prominent position than the military accoutrements on the chair in the background.
At the outbreak of the second world war Rex was determined to enlist. He became a Tank Commander in the Welsh Guards and was part of Operation Goodwood, which took place in northern France in July 1944. Whistler’s troop of 3 tanks was advancing when his own became entangled in some felled telegraph wires. Coming under enemy attack and unable to proceed or radio to the others, Whistler raced across to one of the other Cromwell tanks in his command to ensure they returned fire. Jumping down from this tank to return to his own he was fatally struck by a German mortar. Through an ill-fated mix of bad luck, inexperience, bravery, and a characteristic independence of spirit Rex had been killed on his first day of active service. He was thirty-nine and the first fatality suffered by the battalion in the Normandy campaign.

A memorial glass engraving by Laurence Whistler (the Rex Prism, shown above in the YouTube video) is to be found in the Morning Chapel at Salisbury Cathedral. Laurence also wrote a biography of his brother, The Laughter and the Urn (1985)





The Rex Whistler Archive  (paintings, drawings, decorative arts,

designs, photographs and letters, from his earliest output until his death)

was purchased in 2013 by the Salisbury Museum so that it can be housed permanently.














website © 2015 the estate of Rex Whistler, all rights reserved

Photo credits:

Rex Whistler photograph at head of main page by Howard Coster, 1936 © National Portrait Gallery, London.

All other copyright credits are shown with image except where the photograph is by Nikki Frater or the copyright holders are unknown




the estate of Rex Whistler is grateful to:

Salisbury Museum for the use of images from the Rex Whistler archive,

The Tate Gallery, London, for use of detail from the Tate restaurant mural.

Design & Web production:

Dan James

Dan is a Cornish Web designer and confirmed Muse addict


Words and content:

Dr Nikki Frater

Nikki completed her PhD in 2015 on Rex Whistler and is an

acknowledged authority on his life & work



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