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Museum gets £350,000 grant towards Whistler collection
REX Whistler made a big impact on the artistic world, and one that might have been even greater had he not lost his life during the Normandy campaign of the Second World War.
Born in Kent in 1905, he was a precocious young talent whose work encompassed a wide variety of artistic mediums, from set design and book illustrations to commercial advertisements and paintings.
Accepted at the Royal Academy, but leaving after he and the facility agreed it was not a regime that suited him, he burst on to the artistic scene and made a dazzling impression.
He painted many members of the fashionable society of the time, including photographer Cecil Beaton and writer Edith Sitwell.
He produced designs for Guinness, Shell Petroleum, Wedgwood Pottery and the London Underground while also working on mural cycles, stage designs and many other works.
Although he was 35 when the Second World War broke out, he was keen to enlist and joined the Welsh Guards.
Like many artists, Whistler did not see war a s an impediment to his work, rather as a new subject.
While training as a tank commander on Salisbury Plain, he not only painted and sketched many of his fellow soldiers, but also transformed the interior of the officer’s mess, reimagining it as a Bedouin tent.
It’s reported that while serving in France, he hung a bucket for his paintbrushes from the side of his tank.
Whistler was killed in action on July 18, 1944.
Much of his work is currently on display at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, and it has just been confirmed that a £350,000 grant has been awarded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) to help save Whistler’s personal archive, which was compiled by his brother Laurence following his death.
The museum is planning to purchase the archive, which contains more than 1,000 items and is the only substantial collection of material relating to the artist in existence.
It is hoped that this NHMF award will help the museum to raise the remaining £10,000 needed to acquire the archive.
The archive includes: p Drawings for the Tate Restaurant mural – In Pursuit of Rare Meats, completed in 1927.
p Portraits, advertisements, stage sets, book jackets and illustrations.
p Designs for Shell Petroleum and the Post Office p Diaries and letters – many of which have never been seen in public before.
p 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.
p Sketches that he submitted to the annual Royal Drawing Society competitions, for which he almost invariably won prizes.
p Originals of book illustrations for Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales and Legends.
p Annotated sketches and portraits of Whistler himself and his friends.
Museum director Adrian Green 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.”
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