Rex Whistler



In Tate Britain
Rex Whistler 1905–1944
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 406 x 368 mm
frame: 473 x 437 x 53 mm
Bequeathed by Miss Edith Olivier 1948


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

Display caption

Whistler stands with the confident air of an eighteenth-century gentleman. Behind him, to the right, are the twin Boycott Pavilions at Stowe. The artist had referred to these Buckinghamshire gardens in the mural he had made for the Tate Gallery restaurant six years earlier (and still visible downstairs). At the age of twenty-eight Whistler had become a fashionable painter, connected to the set of people known as the Bright Young Things.

Whistler produced a number of self-portraits: ‘I find my sitter always most obliging, &, unlike some others, always ready to pose for me when I wish!’.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

N05865 SELF-PORTRAIT c. 1933

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 16×14 1/2 (41×37).
Bequeathed by Miss Edith Olivier 1948.
Coll: Purchased by Miss Olivier from the French Gallery 1933.
Exh: Goupil Winter Salon, French Gallery, December 1933–January 1934 (47), as ‘Rex Whistler’; Arts Council tour, 1960 (16).
Lit: Whistler and Fuller, 1960, p.25, No.107.

The artist's brother, Laurence Whistler, states that this almost certainly dates from 1933, the year it was exhibited (letter of 23 August 1958). There are several other self-portraits: the earliest listed by Whistler and Fuller, 1960, was painted in 1924; another, dating from c. 1934 and now in the National Portrait Gallery, is reproduced op.cit. as frontispiece; and a later one of 1940, showing him in uniform, as pl.1 in colour.

The building on the right is one of the twin Boycott Pavilions at Stowe.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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