This exhibition commemorates 70 years since Rex Whistler died on his first day of combat in Normandy on 18 July 1944. It shows work from the Rex Whistler Archive recently acquired by the Museum and loans from the Whistler family. Actively collected and curated by Rex’s younger brother Laurence following Rex’s death, the archive embodies a rare insight into the personal and working life of a brilliant British artist.
Although Rex’s artistic output is incredibly varied, this exhibition concentrates solely on his book illustration. From a young age, Rex showed a natural gift for draughtsmanship and storytelling – his early sketchbooks are full of detailed narrative scenes, brimming with action. During his professional life, he completed designs for over 90 published books, illustrating the work of best-selling authors and his own friends and family. Progressive patrons with an eye for emerging talent were quick to commission work from Rex; these included distinguished publishing companies such as Cobden-Sanderson, Faber, Heineman and Cresset Press, and private printing houses like The Edward James Press. Some of Rex’s best designs were for popular books such as Gulliver’s Travels (1930) and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Legends (1935).
In September 2013, Salisbury Museum bought the personal archive of Rex Whistler, having been awarded a £350,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. This was supplemented by grants from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and private donors. Filled with working drawings, sketchbooks, paintings, autograph letters, finished pieces, and juvenilia, the archive covers the full range of his artistic output. Our intention is make the archive accessible in a variety of ways, one of which will be exhibiting work from it on a regular basis.