Rex Whistler: A Talent Cut Short
The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, set in the beautiful Close of Salisbury Cathedral, is showing a fascinating and beguiling exhibition, “Rex Whistler: A Talent Cut Short.” The title is self-explanatory: Whistler was killed as a thirty-nine year-old infantry officer in Normandy in 1944, after a brief but brilliant career as one of the most remarkable English artists of his generation. Precociously gifted, as drawings from his schooldays show, he made his name as a painter and illustrator, with stylish murals in the Tate Gallery and at various country houses where he became a favorite visitor—and his short life is also a vignette from English social history.
His work belongs to no category. In the heyday of cubism and surrealism, he was no modernist, but he can’t be called a reactionary. His advertising posters, for Shell or the London Underground, are still amusing, and his paintings and drawings on service with the Welsh Guards are vividly realistic, when not satirical. But while there’s whimsy and wit in his work, there is much nostalgic yearning also. Whistler belongs to a tradition of English romanticism which continued after the war with Michael Ayrton and John Minton, and even Lucian Freud, a romanticism which is heightened by the poignancy of Whistler’s short life, and his death.
“Rex Whistler: A Talent Cut Short” is at the Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum September 29, 2013. For more information, please visit salisburymuseum.org.uk.
The King's House,