Rex Whistler, Imaginative Painter, Romantic Hero...

First, know that English artist Rex Whistler (1905-1944) was no relation at all to American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), however amusing it would be to link their work. 

Rex Whistler, self-portrait, 1934

Rex Whistler was born in Kent and showed enormous talent while still in his teens. However, he did not do well in school, nor at the Royal Academy where he was expelled.  More successful was his stay at the Slade School of Art where he made friends with the Honourable Stephen Tennant, and later with Tennant's friend poet Siegfried Sassoon.

While still at Slade, at age 22, he was hired to paint a mural in the basement cafe of the Tate Gallery. He worked with novelist Edith Olivier (1872–1948) on illustrating the story of seven people who search for exotic fare: Expedition in Search of Rare Meats.

According to the publications of the restaurant,  "They leave on bicycles, carts and horses from the 'Duchy of Epicurania', and travel through strange and wonderful lands encountering unicorns, truffle dogs and two giant gluttons guarding the entrance to a cave. The story ends with the travellers returning to a joyful homecoming, and the diet of the people, which had previously consisted of dry biscuits, is transformed."

The mural still decorates the restaurant in the Tate Britain, where we have occasionally dined. Once I saw John Malkovich also enjoying the excellent food and renowned wine list. Here is a link to the restaurant.

Between the world wars, Rex Whistler knew, socialized and painted many of  London's social elite, sometimes known as the "Bright Young Things". 

One of the things he is often remembered for, perhaps at the expense of his other achievements, is the set of reversible faces he drew, later incorporated into a book written by his brother and published in 1947.

Rex Whistler's reversible faces

Rex Whistler went on to design more murals, book illustrations, commerical posters, stage designs and scenery, and many other artistic projects.  One of the most famous is the mural he painted at Plas Newyyd on the Island of Anglesey in Wales for the Marquess of Anglesey (this house has an interesting history I will write about another time.)

Rex Whistler, one of the "Bright Young Things" who often stayed at Plas Newyyd designed a fanstasy mural for the mansion's dining room. While he was cavorting with this set, he fell in love with Lady Caroline Paget, whom he painted many times.
Whistler painted himself into the mural.

Lady Caroline Paget
When war broke out, Rex Whistler joined the Welsh Guards as an officer.  He was killed in Normandy in 1944.

Whistler photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1927
Among Whistler's other projects is a room in Montisfort Abbey, in Hampshire, a trompe d'oeil that has enchanted viewers ever since.

Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire
Rex Whistler Room
Mottisfont Abbey detail

Rex Whistler in 1936

Labels: , ,