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The Old Un's Note: Rex Whistler - The Artist and His Patrons by Nikki Frater

Old Un's Notes | By The Old Un

Ave Silvae Dornii – Latin for ‘Hail Dorney Woods’, painted in 1928 by Rex Whistler.

Eighty years ago, shortly after D-Day, the sublime artist Rex Whistler died in Normandy, on 18th July 1944, aged 39. He was killed when he heroically left his tank to help his comrades.

Today, he lies in the war grave at Banneville-la- Campagne War Cemetery, six miles outside Caen.

Still, 80 years after his death, his reputation lives on, not least in a new book, Rex Whistler: The Artist and His Patrons by Nikki Frater. A companion Whistler show is on at the Salisbury Museum (until September 29).

Among the pictures in this charming book is Ave Silvae Dornii – Latin for ‘Hail Dorney Woods’, painted in 1928 (pictured).

It was commissioned for Lord Courtauld-Thomson (1865-1954) the industrialist and arts patron, who lived at Dorneywood. In 1947, Courtauld-Thomson gave the house to the National Trust, as a home for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

So the Chancellor after the election can rejoice in this marvellous painting. Whistler painted it on a tricky partition wall. The imaginary Corinthian loggia gives on to a classical garden view. The real Dorneywood gardens can be seen through the windows opposite the picture – so you get a mirrored, trompe-l’oeil ‘reflection’.

Whistler adds a dash of humour. Courtauld-Thomson is depicted on the left as a bust of a Roman emperor. Whistler appears in the profile medallion on the right.

What a joyful sight to lift the Chancellor’s spirits next time the economy is in trouble!


This story was from July 2024 issue. Subscribe Now