Rex Whistler
Self-Portrait c.1933

Artwork details

Rex Whistler 1905–1944
Date c.1933
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 406 x 368 mm
frame: 473 x 437 x 53 mm
Acquisition Bequeathed by Miss Edith Olivier 1948
Not on display


This portrait was probably painted in 1933 when Whistler was 28 years old. He stands confidently against a romantic landscape under dark, looming clouds, with one of the twin Boycott Pavilions of Stowe rising up behind him in the distance. Allusions to the eighteenth century gardens at Stowe in Buckinghamshire had also been made in the mural Whistler had been commissioned to paint onto the walls of the Tate Restaurant (1928). The subject depicted was 'The Pursuit of Rare Meats,' a story which he had devised in collaboration with Edith Olivier (1872-1948) whom he had met in 1925. A successful novelist, Olivier lived at Daye House in Wilton Park. Whistler painted a number of striking portraits of Olivier and the Cecil family, whom he had met through her. Olivier bought this painting at the private view of an exhibition at the French Gallery in 1933.

Whistler painted a number of portraits and conversation pieces of his many patrons and friends, including Edith Olivier, Edith Sitwell and Cecil Beaton. He also painted a number of self portraits, the earliest dating from 1924. In this year he wrote to Ronald Fuller 'I am at present at work on a painting of myself; with a mirror beside my canvas. I find my sitter always most obliging, &, unlike some others, always ready to pose for me when I wish' (Whistler and Fuller, p.24). One of the last self portraits Whistler was to complete shows him wearing the uniform of the Welsh Guards on the day in 1940 that he received it. Four years later he was killed leading his tank into action on his first day of active service in World War II (1939-45).

Further reading:
Laurence Whistler and Ronald Fuller, The Work of Rex Whistler, London 1960, p.25

Heather Birchall
November 2001