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The Artist as Socialite and Soldier: Rex Whistler: The triumph of fancy at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Rex Whistler: The triumph of fancy
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
life and art seem both very present and very far away.
He would be a hundred had he not died as a comparatively elderly but tyro tank commander in the wake of the Normandy landings in 1944.
was 39, and was bravely putting right a slight military cock-up of his
own making, when a mortar shell blew him - externally undamaged - to kingdom come.
He was a famous artist: a muralist and illustrator.
was also loved as a man: The Times reported more responses to his
obituary than to any other of the war.
I am not sure why Whistler
should appeal now.
It is often said that Evelyn Waugh based Charles Ryder of Brideshead Revisited on Rex
Certainly, it makes sense if we then see Stephen Tennant, a great friend of Rex's
, as Sebastian Flyte.
wasn't nearly rich enough (though successful), nor classy enough (his father was a builder and his
grandfather - appropriately - a painter and decorator) to be a serious contender in the marriage stakes he
observed around him.
was almost a professional Bright Young Thing.
was bosom friends with Cecil Beaton, who more perfectly fits that bill.
Beaton's photograph of Rex
and various others as Fragonard shepherds on a classical bridge is fabulously gaudy and gleamy, but camp beyond measure.
But even as he
hung out with high-born figures, he
must have felt the precariousness of his
had a relationship with Penelope Dudley-Ward, the daughter of the Prince of Wales'
seems to have been seriously scorched by his
feelings for Lady Caroline Paget.
The National Trust
conforms to the common idea that he
was in love with this, the beautiful elder daughter of Plas Newydd.
It all seems to have got very complicated, what with Caroline's ambivalence toward him.
was tempted by the upper-middle class actress Jill Furse, who was later to settle with his
own younger brother, Laurence, until her
death just after giving birth to their child.
Laurence's memoir of that brief marriage, Initials In the Heart (1964 and 1975), makes a perfect partner with his
biography of Rex
, The Laughter and the Urn (1985).
But there was serious painting, too, as shown in a big 1994 Army Museum show, Rex Whistler's
War (1939-July 1944): Artist into Tank Commander.