Rex Whistler (1905-1944), "Self-Portrait", 1940, National Army Museum
One of my favourite biographies of the 1980's is Laurence Whistler's The Laughter and The Urn, an affectionate portrait of his brother, the artist and illustrator, Rex Whistler. Rex was killed in July 1944 as the Guards Armoured Division attempted to break out of the salient at Caen. His languid self-portrait, painted in 1940, is now in the possession of the National Army Museum. He's sitting on the edge of the balcony of one of those Nash stucco terraces in Regent's Park, self-aware in his new uniform of the Welsh Guards; Sam Browne belt unbuckled, cocktail tray and paint brushes at the ready.
Rex Whistler died at far too young an age. He is remembered now for his charming, delightful, whimsical if frivolous, illustrations (Beverley Nichol's Down the Garden Path, immediately comes to mind); he was after all, a friend of Stephen Tennant and a Bright Young Thing, but his later work shows the promise of greater things. Here's his portrait of Sargeant Isaacs, Welsh Guards:
Rex Whistler (1905-1944), "Caroline Paget", circa 1938
In 1926, The Tate Gallery commissioned Whistler to redecorate the murals of their then refreshment room, now the Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain (the restaurant is currently closed for re-fururbishment until 2013).
With quirky wit, Rex called his murals The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats: "a hunting party is formed, including a princess and her maid, a prince, a colonel, a captain, a pantry boy and the son of an impoverished nobleman. At the start of the mural they are seen leaving a palace and riding across the countryside, spearing sturgeon, hunting for truffles and other delicacies. The hunters encounter wild and mythical beasts on their journey through the mountains and forests including a leopard and a unicorn".
Yesterday I mentioned my "cook books to save in the event of a fire shelf". I've got another one to add (this is growing by the day). It's The Tate Cookbook, by Paul King and Michael Driver, published by The Tate Gallery in 1996. It might just be still available new, otherwise you should easily be able to track one down through amazon or abebooks. I really love it. Published in an elegant format, with a terrific dust-jacket by William Strang ("Bank Holiday", painted in 1912) it's generously illustrated with food-related paintings and drawings by the likes of William Nicholson, Vanessa Bell, Elisabeth Blackadder, William Scott, Duncan Grant, Stanley Spencer and Walter Sickert.
Inside, there's a selection of relatively simple, elegant (like "iconic", a much over-used word, but I'm going to use it again without hesitation in this case), recipes with a British, even Nursery twist: buttered crab, venison pâté en croûte with Cumberland Sauce, poached pears with stilton walnut quennelles, omelette arnold bennett, breast of pheasant with pâté croutons and Madeira sauce, whisky and coffee ice cream, brioche and butter pudding, lemon soufflé. All this is similar, in some ways, to the 1920s' and 30's recipes in Arabella Boxer's Book of English Food.