Rex Whistler: The Artist and His Patrons
Focusing on the British virtuoso Rex Whistler (1905–1944), who was linked to many of the most illustrious figures of the inter-war period, this book explores an exceptional case of artistic patronage in the twentieth century. In weaving together social and art history, this beautifully illustrated volume will be as much about the artist as it is about his patrons. It accompanies a major exhibition at the Salisbury Museum, which holds the Rex Whistler Archive.
Whistler’s cast of patrons reads like the Who’s Who of his time: the art collector and poet Edward James, the avid diarist and socialite Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten, Cecil Beaton, Duff and Diana Cooper, author and poet Lady Dorothy Wellesley and many others for whom Whistler worked on a diverse range of commissions, from murals, portraits and bookplates to architectural improvements and even book illustrations. The exchange with his patrons, the book argues, gave Whistler an opportunity to explore a rich variety of subjects, materials and techniques.
The artworks discussed in the volume range from a recently re-discovered painting for Sir Malcolm Bullock, a substantial history painting unique in Whistler’s oeuvre, to the magnificent murals at Port Lympne and Trent Park designed for Sir Philip Sassoon, one of the greatest hosts of the age, to Plas Newydd, where Whistler created one of the largest private mural schemes in the inter-war period for the 6th Marquess and Marchioness of Anglesey. It culminates with Maud Russell’s mansion at Mottisfont, where in 1938–39 the artist was painting one of his finest works in trompe l’oeil as war loomed over Europe, the war in which Whistler gave his life for his country.
Whistler’s commissioning circle were both diverse and privileged, with many embracing the sexual fluidity of the time, and the book deepens our understanding of how the elite were protected by their wealth and position from the strict societal mores of the 1920s and 30s. The artist understood the importance of creating beautiful private spaces for all his clients; but, for some, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal, he was painting murals in houses that were acknowledged havens where sexual preferences could be expressed without fear of discrimination.
Dr Nikki Frater, an expert on Whistler’s work, draws on extensive archival research and newly available material to present a fresh interpretation of the relationship between the artist and his milieu. Frater’s behind-the-scenes approach illuminates Whistler’s creative methods and techniques and includes many previously unseen drawings and sketches. The book speaks not only of his patrons, but also paints a nuanced portrait of his oeuvre and the artist himself, as he tried to combine his challenging career with a complicated romantic life. This is a timely re-examination, given the recent controversy surrounding his mural at the Tate Gallery Restaurant, and offers an opportunity to understand fully Whistler’s place in and contribution to the arts and culture of his time.
By Nikki Frater
Paperback, 280 x 220 mm
208 pages, approx. 150 illustrations
25 May – 29 September 2024
About the Author
Dr Nikki Frater is an independent art historian, writer and artist. She has been engaged in research, writing, lecturing and broadcasting on Rex Whistler since 2000.