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A £350,000 grant to Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum helps save the personal archive of Rex Whistler
Frontispiece from Rome sketchbook, 1928, ink on paper © Estate of Rex Whistler 2012.

SALISBURY.- The museum is planning to purchase the archive, which contains over 1,000 items and is the only substantial collection of material relating to Rex Whistler in existence. It is hoped that this award will help the museum to raise the remaining £10,000 needed to acquire the archive.

Whistler came to prominence between the World Wars, carving out a ‘dazzling’ career. Alongside commercially designing for Wedgwood Pottery, Shell Petroleum, Guinness and The London Underground, he also painted many members of London’s fashionable society including his own set - the ‘Bright Young Things’ - including writer Edith Sitwell and photographer Cecil Beaton. He also produced mural cycles, stage designs and book illustrations, as well as portraits, designs for the decorative arts and commercial material. His career was tragically cut short when he was killed on his first day of action in Normandy in 1944

The highlights of the archive, assembled by Whistler’s brother Laurence after his death, include:

• drawings for the Tate Restaurant mural - In Pursuit of Rare Meats, completed in 1927

• portraits, advertisements, stage sets, book jackets and illustration

• designs for Shell Petroleum and the Post Office

• diaries and letters - many of which have never been seen in public before

• personal sketchbooks from throughout his life, including one he left on a train en route to Munich in 1929, which found its way back to his brother in 1958

• Sketches that he submitted to the annual Royal Drawing Society competitions for which he almost invariably won prizes

• Originals of book illustrations for Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Legends

• Annotated sketches and portraits of Whistler himself and his friends

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the NHMF, said: “Whistler was a prolific and prominent artist. Much of his most influential work was designed to be enjoyed through his high profile commercial commissions. This universal and unique appeal is why the Trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund felt it was so important to safeguard this extensive collection for future generations to enjoy.”

Adrian Green, Director of the Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the NHMF has helped to support the museum with the acquisition of the archive. We are now only £10,000 short of achieving our fundraising total. Acquiring the archive will ensure that future generations appreciate the talent of an artist whose work epitomises the interwar era.”

At the outbreak of war, Whistler joined the Welsh Guards, training as a tank commander on Salisbury Plain, where he not only painted and sketched many of his fellow soldiers, but also transformed the interior of the officers’ mess, painting the inside as a Bedouin tent.

Some of the Whistler archive is now on display at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum as part of Rex Whistler: A Talent Cut Short exhibition, which runs until 29 September 2013. Once the full amount has been raised some of the material in the collection will undergo conservation before being digitised for wider enjoyment.

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