Rex Whistler 1905-1944

Artist biography

English painter, illustrator and designer. Encouraged by his parents, he entered the Royal Academy of Arts Schools in London under Charles Sims. He did not, however, enjoy the atmosphere of the Academy and transferred to the Slade School of Fine Art, London, where he was considered to be one of the best young artists of his generation. Whistler embarked on an academic study of art history and architecture. He had no real relationship with avant-garde contemporaries, but an affinity with such classical and romantic painters as Poussin, Claude, Watteau, Boucher and Canaletto. He also showed a strong interest in Georgian architecture. After leaving the Slade, he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Tate Gallery restaurant in London: he depicted a pastoral scene that encircled the room, the Pursuit of Rare Meats (1926–7). Whistler was a prolific illustrator, creating hand-coloured pen drawings for Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (London, 1931); one of his best-known publications was OHO (London, 1946), a children's book with text by Laurence Whistler featuring reversible faces. He painted murals in private houses, for example at Plas Newydd, Gwynedd (see Capriccio, fig. 2), as well as a triptych at the Brompton Oratory, London (see Oratorians), and many portraits of members of London society, including Edith Sitwell and Cecil Beaton (both priv. cols). He also designed furniture, buildings, theatre sets (see Theatre, §III, 4(ii)(b)) and costumes for national productions. He died on his first day of action during service in World War II.

L. Whistler: Rex Whistler, his Life and his Drawings (London, 1948)
L. Whistler and R. Fuller: The Work of Rex Whistler (London, 1960)

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