Rex Whistler

Illustrations to ‘Königsmark’


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Not on display

Rex Whistler 1905–1944
Ink and watercolour on paper
Displayed: 1070 × 1820 × 82 mm
Bequeathed by A.E.W. Mason 1949

Catalogue entry


Bequeathed by A. E. W. Mason 1949.
Coll: Commissioned by the author from the artist 1940.
Exh: Arts Council, V. & A. and tour, 1960–1 (98).
Lit: Whistler, 1948, p.28; Laurence Whistler (ed.), Rex Whistler: The Königsmark Drawings, 1952 (all reproduced); Whistler and Fuller, 1960, p.84, No.516.

Königsmark, the tragic story of Prince Christopher, Count Königsmark, was first published by A. E. W. Mason in 1938. In 1940 the author gave Whistler an advance of £100 for a set of drawings, which were finished after some difficulty during his military service in the summer of 1941. They never appeared with the text, but were intended by the author to be bound up with the manuscript and were published in facsimile with a résumé of the story by the artist's brother Laurence Whistler in a limited edition in 1952. Three sheets of pencil studies for ‘Königsmark’ are in the collection of Laurence Whistler and are listed in Whistler and Fuller, loc. cit.

The sizes and subjects of the drawings are as follows:

(i) Title-page.
Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r., ‘Königsmark A. E. W. Mason’ t.c., ‘Illustrated by Rex Whistler’ l.c.
Pen and sepia wash, slightly tinted, 13 3/8×10 (34×25·5).
Repr: Whistler, 1948, frontispiece.

(ii) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘Those secret meetings so treasured, so sacred, which made a long summer's day no more than an attribute of one wondrous hour.......’
Pen and sepia wash, slightly tinted, 13 3/8×10 (34×25·5).
Repr: Whistler, 1948, p.79.

Chapter I describes how the beautiful young Princess Sophia Dorothea is rehearsing Racine's Iphigénie in company with Philip Christopher, Count Königsmark, in the Chapel at Celle Castle. They meet secretly, but are watched by Chancellor Bernstorff. The artist has not here kept to the text, and instead represents the two lovers meeting openly in the French Gardens at Celle.

(iii) Inscr. below: ‘Bernstorff, with a smile upon his lips, was holding in his hands a thin strong cord with a slipknot at one end of it.’

Pen and sepia wash, faces and hands slightly tinted, 13 3/8×10 (34×25·5).

A scene described in Chapter III where Chancellor Bernstorff surprises Count Philip von Königsmark as he waits in the Duke's private pew for Sophia Dorothea. As a result Philip is made captive and after an agonizing vigil in the chapel is brought before the Duke. He is dismissed from the Duke's service as a page, and exiled from the Duchy of Celle. He returns to his home at Breda. This episode scars his memory for years. Heinrich Muller, Bernstorff's servant and henchman, stands at the door of the pew.

(iv) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘At the window on the first floor the two women held their ground... they were deliberately on view to assert their authority.’
Pen and sepia wash, the faces slightly tinted, 13 3/8×10 (34×25·5).

An episode taken from Chapter XVI. Princess Sophia Dorothea has been forced into a marriage (for political reasons) with Prince George Louis of Hanover, afterwards George I of England, and is returning from her honeymoon to the Alte Palast, Hanover. At the gateway she alights from her carriage and looking up at the window sees the mistresses of the Duke and his son, her husband, Clara von Platen and Ermengarde von Schulemberg, flaunting her in public. She succeeds in making them look foolish, and refuses to enter the palace until they are gone.

(v) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘His Highness, the Duke, had appointed him Colonel of his Regiment of Guards.’
Pen and sepia wash, the faces slightly tinted, 13 5/8×10 (34·75×25·5).

From Chapters XIX and XXI. Philip returns to Hanover some eight years later, in order to be near Sophia Dorothea, and accepts the command of the Duke Ernst Augustus's regiment of Guards.

(vi) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘In the Garden Theatre.... It was no more than a whisper, & then she was within his arms her face against his breast, her arms about his neck.’
Pen and sepia wash, the faces slightly tinted, 13 1/4×10 (33·5×25·5).
Repr: Whistler, 1948, p.80.

From Chapter XXIII. Philip and Sophia Dorothea plan to meet secretly in the Garden Theatre at Herrenhausen. Philip has just promised Sophia's mother-in-law, the Duchess Sophia, that he will accompany her son Prince Charles on his campaign against the Turks in the Morea, at that time the allies of Louis XIV of France and enemies of the Grand Alliance. In this drawing Whistler has adapted the motif of the statue by Le Brun, ‘The Rape of Persephone’, Versailles, and has placed it in the Garden of Herrenhausen.

(vii) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘Tonight, with her dark eyes looking up to his, her tender lips within a hand's breadth of his... Philip reached forward and slowly turned it out; and this time Sophia did not stay his hand.’
Pen and sepia wash, slightly tinted, 13 3/4×10 (35×25·5).
Repr: Whistler, 1948, p.81.

From Chapter XXVI. Philip again meets Sophia Dorothea on the eve of his departure for the war. The artist has chosen the episode hinted at in the last paragraph of this chapter, although he has allowed himself a certain amount of licence in interpretation, following the traditional Cupid and Psyche theme.

(viii) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘With a little cry of assumed terror, Clara von Platen sprang to her feet - a cry just loud enough to be heard by those two upon the path.’
Pen and sepia wash, slightly tinted, 13 1/4×10 (33·5×25·5).
Repr: Whistler and Fuller, 1960, pl.88.

From Chapter XXIX. Philip and Sophia Dorothea's enemies Clara von Platen, her husband Count Franz von Platen, and Prince Maximilian lay a trap for Philip, hoping to expose him and Sophia before Sophia's husband, Prince George Louis. The occasion is a masked ball which Philip has organized at his house in the last week of May 1689, and the plot hangs upon a lost glove.

(ix) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘He passed under the bridge & guided the skiff to the stone steps which led up to the small private door below Sophia Dorothea's apartment.’
Pen and sepia wash heightened with white, 13 1/4×10 (33·5×25·5).
Repr: Whistler, 1948, p.82.

From Chapter XXXII. Philip, returning after a further absence fighting with his regiment, makes his way to Herrenhausen for his last and fatal meeting with Sophia Dorothea. Clara von Platen hears of his return and obtains leave from Ernst Augustus to have Philip arrested. It is the night of 1 July 1694.

(x) Inscr. ‘R.W.’ b.r. and below: ‘Philip's head had fallen back.... Beads of sweat were standing on his forehead, his face was the colour of wax, his eyes were glazing.... Pointing a shaking finger loaded with diamonds, she screamed to the guards....’
Pen and sepia wash, slightly tinted, 12 3/4×10 (32·5×25·5).
Repr: Whistler, 1948, p.83.

From Chapter XXXIV. Philip has been caught on his way back from his meeting with Sophia and is trapped in the Rittersaal of Herrenhausen. He is mortally wounded in his struggle with the guards and Clara von Platen gloats over his death.

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

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