Rex Whistler (1905–1944) was one of those smiling, radiant prodigies who was clutching at pencils before he could walk. He was only eight when he began submitting work to the Royal Drawing Society, an inspired organisation that sought to develop children’s observation and memory through drawing. Most of his schooling seemed to him a squalid, frustrating distraction from creativity. Notoriously he hated writing letters. Even his application for a commission in the Welsh Guards in 1939 breaks off from dreary sentences, and is embellished with ink sketches of the Royal Opera House and of a skull wearing a German military helmet. He was first and last a pictorial artist.
As Hugh and Mirabel Cecil show in their masterly yet playful monograph, Whistler created murals, portraits, conversation pieces, landscapes, and panels for ducal houses; theatrical scenery, costumes, and programmes; robes for pageants; dust jackets, book illustrations, book-plates (including a gorgeous design for Diana and Duff Cooper), letter-headings and Christmas cards;