Rex Whistler was one of the most intriguing artists of the interwar years. His career lasted only from 1925 until his tragically early death in the Second World War, when he was thirty-nine. But in those two decades he established himself as an artist in many different fields, and especially as the outstanding mural painter of the period. His first big mural, painted while he was still a student at the Slade School of Art, was for the Tate Gallery restaurant. He went on to paint many others, including those at Port Lympne in Kent, Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire and - his masterpiece - Plas Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey.
He was also an acclaimed portrait painter, of people and of their houses. He designed sets for opera, the theatre and ballet (most famously Fidelio at Covent Garden, Victoria Regina on Broadway and the Royal Ballet's Rake's Progress), illustrations and book jackets for over a hundred books, numerous advertisements, greetings telegrams for the Post Office and even a toile de jouy that is still in production to this day. Among his most memorable portraits are those of the beautiful Lady Caroline Paget, the love of his life.
Amidst all this, he found time to sparkle as one of the wittiest and most elegant of the 'bright young things'; until, at the outbreak of war, he joined the Welsh Guards and was transformed into a dedicated and outstandingly courageous tank troop commander in the Guards Armoured Division. He was killed by a mortar bomb blast in Normandy on 18 July 1944.
Although Rex Whistler's reputation stand high today and his work is avidly collected, much of it is in private hands and so comparatively little known. The authors, Hugh and Mirabel Cecil, have tracked down all of his murals, in private collections and on public display. They have traced his later dramatic portraits and war art painted while he was in the army and have been given access to many unpublished sources, both letters and the memories of his many devoted friends.
HUGH and MIRABEL CECIL's previous joint biography, Clever Hearts: A Life of Desmond and Molly McCarthy (1990) won the Duff Cooper Prizr and the Marsh Biography Award. Their Imperial Marriage (2002) told the story of Lord Edward Cecil, his wife Violet and Lord Milner, with whom she was in love. Hugh Cecil's other books include The Flower of Battle: How Britain Wrote the Great War (1996) and, as co-editor, Facing Armageddon (1996). Mirabel Cecil has written A Kind of Prospero (1995), the biography of her brother, the pioneering publisher Sebastian Walker and, with David Mlinaric, On Decorating. Her last book was The Journal of Mrs Sloane's Dog Fanny, published in 2010 for the Sir John Sloan Museum.
'Probably the most tenderly beautiful book of the year, filled with Whistler's superb fantasies'
'A superb new biography … which throws new light on to the artist’s complex world, marks the resounding reclamation of his reputation.'
'Sharp-nosed and perceptive'
'A beautifully illustrated biography of the multi-talented artist'
'Not merely a delight to read, well researched and carefully organised, but also lavishly illustrated and beautifully designed'
'a worthy and long-overdue appraisal'
'An intensely romantic window on a lost world is opened by [this book]'
'A considerable work of art in itself. The Cecils’ text is very well organised, exhaustive in research and information, and enjoyable and lively. There is not a single flat sentence.'
'a fine tribute to a major artist. The text is informative and sensitive, the illustrations are truly magnificent, and the attention to detail throughout is exemplary.'
'a very beautiful book that will help to re-establish a lost reputation'
"a visual feast ... [as well as] a concise biography of the artist and his times that is elegantly readable ... So rich is Whistler's art as portrayed in this book that it is tempting to go on and on writing about it. I can only urge anyone who cares about art or has an interest in the first half of the last century to get this book."
'A highly readable journey through the life of Britain's most notable 20th-century mural painter.'
'covers the spectrum of his work, including the astonishingly numberous items he managed to paint after enlisting in 1940. The book is a pleasure to read and the visual joys are innumerable.'
'sympathetically and clearly written, highly detailed with a nice mix of art and life.'
'a rich and satisfying record of the artist's achievement, as well as a vivid sense of the man'