In Search of Rex Whistler
Rex Whistler was one of the most intriguing artists of the interwar years. His career lasted only from 1925 until his tragically early death in the Second World War, when he was thirty-nine. But in those two decades he established himself as an artist in many different fields, and especially as the outstanding mural painter of the period. His first big mural, painted while he was still a student at the Slade School of Art, was for the Tate Gallery restaurant. He went on to paint many others, including those at Port Lympne in Kent, Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire and – his masterpiece – Plas Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey.
He was also an acclaimed portrait painter, of people and of their houses. He designed sets for opera, the theatre and ballet (most famously Fidelio at Covent Garden, Victoria Regina on Broadway and the Royal Ballet’s Rake’s Progress), illustrations and book jackets for over a hundred books, numerous advertisements, greetings telegrams for the Post Office and even a toile de jouy that is still in production to this day. Among his most memorable portraits are those of the beautiful Lady Caroline Paget, the love of his life.
Amidst all this, he found time to sparkle as one of the wittiest and most elegant of the ‘bright young things’; until, at the outbreak of war, he joined the Welsh Guards and was transformed into a dedicated and outstandingly courageous tank troop commander in the Guards Armoured Division. He was killed by a mortar bomb blast in Normandy on 18 July 1944.
Although Rex Whistler’s reputation stand high today and his work is avidly collected, much of it is in private hands and so comparatively little known. The authors, Hugh and Mirabel Cecil, have tracked down all of his murals, in private collections and on public display. They have traced his later dramatic portraits and war art painted while he was in the army and have been given access to many unpublished sources, both letters and the memories of his many devoted friends.
IN SEARCH OF REX WHISTLER was published on 22nd November 2012 by Frances Lincoln.