The Whistler Room, Interactive Image
Created on June 15, 2022
More creations to inspire you
The Whistler Room - Beginnings and Creation ‘Mr. Whistler called here the other day… If you will kindly let us know when he is ready for the varnishing to be done we will endeavour to send two of our painters to complete the work. We beg to remain, Madam, Your obedient servants, Lenygon & Morant, Ltd.' Lenygon & Morant Ltd, 6th September 1939 After living in a succession of rented properties including Stanway House in Gloucestershire and Heveningham Hall in Surrey, Gilbert and Maud Russell purchased Mottisfont Abbey in 1934 and subsequently set to work transforming it into a home both reflective of the building’s history, but also representative of their wealth and social position. The piece-de-resistance of this conversion would be the remodelling of the former Hall in the south-west wing, previously clad in sombre plaster ‘wooden’ panelling, into the striking saloon created by Rex Whistler between 1938 and 1939. The former Hall of Mottisfont Abbey, prior to its transformation by Rex Whistler, photographed for Country Life, 1921. Whilst the overall concept of the new room’s design was charged to Whistler, many craftspeople were involved in bringing his design to fruition. Among these were Lenygon & Morant, a firm of decorators, who oversaw the preparation of the room and the painting of its ground colour in a pale, terracotta pink which then served as the background for Whistler’s murals. The firm was highly influential during the first half of the twentieth century, offering not only decorating but also furniture and upholstering services to Britain's upper classes. Lengyon & Morant patrons included Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, and George VI. A pine and marble chimneypiece by the firm was also purchased for the house, now seen in the South-East bedroom. Letter from Lenygon & Morant to Maud Russell regarding the Whistler Room, 1939. Hampshire Record Office, HRO 13M63-439-6. The execution of Whistler’s design was further aided by the work of his two assistants, Percy Willets and Victor Bowens. The painters were responsible for the completion of the repeating design motifs throughout the room, including the trellis work of the entablature, whilst Whistler completed the murals such as the smoking brazier. Russell critiqued Willets' and Bowen's slow pace of work in letters to Whistler and in her diary, writing that he [Whistler] ‘pays them each over £9 a week. So the slowness of the work is unfortunate for him. Some of it is his own fault. He ought to have come here much more in earlier days and hurried them on and told them not to fiddle about. And then he should have been here a lot more himself in the summer to finish the trophies.’ Another firm involved in the completion of the Whistler Room was A. R. Marus & Son, who specialised in ‘carving, gilding, and decorative art’. A bill addressed to ‘Madam Gilbert Russell’ on the 4th of December 1939 reveals an order made by Whistler for ‘preparing ground colour for skirting marbling and varnishing in the decorated reception room’. When one compares the marbling of the skirting to the marbling of the chimneypiece, undertaken by Whistler himself, Whistler's remarkable skill with the paintbrush and the art of trompe l’oeil becomes evident.
The Trompe L'oeil Trophies ‘The point had been reached when I had to make up my mind what I wanted to have in the panels - whether romantic scenes or trophies or what. Rex had chalked in some delicious scenes - ruins, stages, bowed trees to tempt me and I was tempted. But I returned again to trophies.’ Maud Russell, 7th May 1939 Whistler’s initial plan for the room was far more elaborate than it appears today. Surviving designs reveal plans to paint detailed landscapes similar to those he created for the Tate Gallery (1927, now Tate Britain) and Plas Newydd (1938). Although her diaries divulge how tempting she found these, Russell would opt for a simpler design of suspended trophies within each of the room’s painted niches. Rex Whistler's initial design for the south wall of the Whistler Room. The niche on the left reveals Whistler's original plan to have trompe l'oeil landscapes rather than trophies. NT 769748. Each of the wall trophies centres around a different theme – Asia, hunting, the Middle East, Music, religion, and traditional western armoury – with each one composed of different images and motifs representative of its subject. Twentieth-century art was rife with Orientalist imagery, and Whistler's murals are no exception to this racist tendency. Prominent in this discussion is his monumental work, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats (1927), a fresco decorating the former Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain that is filled with racist and offensive imagery. Tate Britain closed the restaurant in 2020 and is in the process of commissioning a contemporary artist to create a site-specific installation that will be in dialogue with Whistler's mural. Rex Whistler's design (left) and the final painting (right) for the trophy seen to the right of the Whistler Room chimneypiece. NT 769746.
Patron and Artist The ‘Religious’ Trophy (left) located on the west wall of the Whistler Room and a close-up view of the ‘bound hands’ (right) at the bottom of the trophy. Russell's rejection of Whistler’s landscape-themed designs for the room's walls helped fuel rumours of a hostile relationship between the two, an inaccurate narrative which persists to this day and affects how historians interpret the space. However, Russell's diaries, which were published by her granddaughter Emily Russell in 2017, challenge these rumours and provide a glimpse into the fond relationship between patron and artist. Put directly, Russell stated 'I like any time spent with Rex.' The diaries discuss social gatherings and mutual friends they enjoyed with one another, helping scholars and admirers of Mottisfont understand the human relationships which underpin the work on display in the Whistler Room. For example, in A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing (2015), a biographical work about Whistler's relationship with Edith Oliver, Anna Thomasson writes 'The tyrannical Mrs Russell would fail to recognize the symbolism of a pair of limp, bound hands, incorporated into one of the trophies on her wall.' The suggestion that Whistler felt bound to a project he no longer wished to involve himself in, was written prior to the publication of Russell's diaries and therefore does not fully account for the nuances in the pair's professional and personal relationships. However, it must also be acknowledged that by the end of the project, Whistler was certainly ready for it to be complete. Writing to Henry Paget, he would comment ‘I am just finishing this wretched room... It has been the longest and most arduous and most boring of any that I have done’.
The Painted Pot, Paintbrush and Matchbox ‘I was painting this Ermine curtain when Britain declared war on the Nazi tyrants. Sunday September 3rd 1939.' Rex Whistler, 3rd September 1939 On a faux mantle, barely visible on the upper half of the southern wall, is a notable addition not detailed in any of Whistler's preliminary designs for the room. On 3rd September 1939, as he painted Mottisfont, Britain would officially announce that it was at war with Germany, commencing what would become the Second World War. Upon hearing this news, Whistler painted the phrase quoted above, alongside a small paintbrush protruding from a paint pot and a box of matches, symbols of his intention to return once the war was over. However, on 18th July 1944, at the age of 39, Rex Whistler was killed in action in Normandy, France. Close-up view of Whistler's Pot, Paintbrush and Matchbox on the south wall of the Whistler Room.
The Trompe L'oeil Pelmets ‘it is a fact that ages have been spent… most of all on the curtains, the upper pelmet part I mean of course, with a great deal more to come.’ Rex Whistler, 20th August 1939 Close-up view of Rex Whistler's tromple l'oeil pelmets in the Whistler Room. Surmounting each window of the room, Whistler painted dramatic swags of Ermine as pelmets (a piece of cloth placed across a window to conceal the curtain fittings). Beneath these, upon the walls, he created an illusion of carved ‘plasterwork,' adding to the theatrical ambience of the room. Given that when hung, the curtains mask portions of this trompe l’oeil plasterwork, it is a testament to Whistler’s eye for detail that these covered sections are as intricate as those that remain visible. Likely, this was done to ensure that even if the curtains were removed for cleaning, or replaced entirely, the room’s ‘plasterwork’ would be no less impressive. The pelmet's construction also offers an interesting insight into Whistler’s other work. Whilst much attention has been given to their appearance facing the room, from behind, each pelmet is unembellished and painted in plain white. The green tasseled fringe is also revealed to be no more than painted canvas. Close-up view of the Whistler Room pelmets, as they appear from behind. The pelmets appear to reference Whistler’s work in set design, where emphasis was placed entirely towards the audience and little towards the back of the stage. Throughout his career, Whistler would create numerous designs for theatrical productions including Pride and Prejudice (St. James's Theatre, 1936) and The Rake’s Progress (Sadler's Wells Co.,1942). A set design by Rex Whistler for a 1936 production of Gilbert Miller's Pride and Prejudice at St. James's Theatre, London.
Wall Sconces ‘Darling Maud, Just a line to tell you about the wall lights. I went to see the model on Friday morning… I personally was very pleased with what I saw. They have only been able to make it roughly like my drawing, but… the effect is very much what it should be… I think my new curling arms are much prettier than the old ones. I wonder if you will agree? They also seem with their loops to look definitely more Gothic.' Rex Whistler, 20th August 1939 Detail of Rex Whistler's letter to Maud Russell, 17th February, 1939. The Salisbury Museum, 2013.27.2303.1 The lights hanging upon the room’s walls were also designed by Rex Whistler, ensuring they were in tandem with the rest of his design for the interior. The ormolu (gilded brass) brackets – each with four faux green candles and light bulbs – incorporate decorative elements visible in other sections of the room such as the gothic motifs of the dado and radiator vents, as well as the trellis-work of the entablature. The central silhouette of the brackets can also be seen in the marbling detail of the room’s chimneypiece. The central silhouette of the light brackets (left) and the same shape incorporated into the chimneypiece marbling (right). NT 769622 & 769321. Although Whistler designed the “Regency Gothic” lights, they were manufactured in 1939 by Dernier & Hamlyn Ltd, a London-based manufacturer of lampshades and light fittings established in 1888. The lights were, as noted by Whistler, ‘lacquered and toned slightly to any shade of gold that we want.’ Gothic motifs incorporated into the wall sconces (left) and painted trellis-work (right). NT 769622.
Curtains ‘Delivery of the Velvet, which we are having specially woven to your colour, will be 5 weeks from date of order. We will order an extra 10 yds. for covering your chairs as you suggest.’ Décor London Limited, 25th August 1939 Each window of the Whistler Room room was hung with floor-length green velvet drapes lined with faux Ermine and finished with a ‘padded roll edge of Ermine about 5” wide’. The curtains were created by Décor London Limited, who supplied a total of 76 ½ yards of fabric. The design of the curtains was in keeping with Whistler’s trompe l’oeil pelmets painted above each window. When the curtains are hung up, they help to further his painted illusion. The western wall of the Whistler Room showing the window curtains and smoking brazier, photographed in 1954 for Country Life. A further 10 yards of green velvet was delivered to Mottisfont to upholster the room’s chairs. Although there is no evidence that the textile was ever used elsewhere in the space, it is possible that Whistler and Russell purchased the velvet for the furniture that Whistler intended to design for the room. Unfortunately, this plan was cut short by his death during the Second World War, and as there are no known designs for these pieces, we cannot be certain. "Nothing would be more interesting to me than designing some furniture specifically for the room & I shall ring you up & come over to Mottisfont if I may, when I get back to Wiltshire." Rex Whistler to Maud Russell, 31st December 1939. The Salisbury Museum, 2013.27.2306. In 2019, the National Trust began an extensive project to restore the curtains in the Whistler Room.
The 'Chippendale' Sofa and Armchair The 'Chippendale' armchair. NT 769326. Of the few pieces that remain from Russell’s original furnishing of the Whistler Room, the striped sofa and two armchairs are the most prominent. The set has often been referred to as 'Chippendale,' although no archival evidence has been found to verify a connection to the famed cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale. The furniture’s enduring association with Chippendale reflects the revival of interest in Georgian styles during the early twentieth century, and speaks to Russell’s intention to recover an ‘authentic’ eighteenth-century appearance that would complement the theatre created by Whistler’s designs. Through association, the sofa and armchairs help to underscore the unique quality and appeal of Chippendale-style furniture, regardless of whether they are originals or copies. By calling them Chippendale, a narrative has been established between the room’s décor and the renowned furniture maker, a connection which no doubt would have pleased Russell. The 'Chippendale' Sofa. NT 769325.2. Designs for similar sofas and armchairs can be found in Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754), and scholars Margaret Jourdain & F. Rose have suggested that the armchair at Mottisfont was produced in circa 1770. However, as The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director has long been used by furniture makers as a design source for their own work, it is also possible that the pieces at Mottisfont are 1930s reproductions inspired by Chippendale’s work. Plate 30, Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754). Interestingly, the sofa is visible amongst a jumble of ladders and painting utensils in a photograph of the room whilst it is being decorated. Upholstered in a plain textile rather than its current striped green, Russell's decision to keep the sofa in the room whilst it was being decorated would have given Whistler an insight into the furnishings that Russell planned to use, indicating how the room would eventually look. One might also speculate that she intended for Whistler to repaint the white and green carved elements of the seats to match the color scheme of the room. However, we cannot be certain of this. The "Chippendale" sofa visible to the left side of the southern wall of the Whistler Room whilst it was being decorated.
What's Missing? Following the death of Maud Russell in 1982, Mottisfont not only lost its last inhabitant, but also a considerable portion of its furnishings. An auction at Sotheby’s, Pulborough of ‘18th and 19th century English and Continental Furniture, Bronzes and Works of Art including the property of the late Mrs. M. J. A. Russell’ in March of 1983, saw many objects from the house sold. Cover of the 1983 Sotheby's auction catalogue. Much of the furniture sold at auction was catalogued as being ‘George III’ and ‘Regency'. This is in keeping with the Neo-Georgian style that Russell chose for many other rooms at Mottisfont, and it is also indicative of the taste for Regency furniture that flourished during the first half of the twentieth century, a revival referred to as ‘Vogue Regency’ by Osbert Lancaster in his Homes Sweet Homes (1939), a history of architectural interiors in Britain.
Monopodium Table A monopodium table originally placed in the Whistler Room and photographed for the 1983 Sotheby's auction catalogue. The table is catalogued as ‘A Regency Rosewood Cut Brass Inlaid Drum Top Writing Table’. Furniture historians Frances Collard and Nancy McClelland have suggested that Russell acquired furniture that had once furnished the Deepdene, home of the famous Regency-era designer and collector Thomas Hope. As implied in Thomas Hope: Regency Designer (2008), Russell may have purchased a ‘Monopodium Library table, circular top and support inlaid in ebony with stars and anthemions, carved lion paw feet’, a similar version of which can be seen in a staged image by Country Life. However, no table matches this description in the auction catalogue. Nevertheless, Russell frequently moved furniture between Mottisfont and her London house, and is known to have sold furniture during her lifetime, making it possible that she purchased the table and later resold it. Like the connection forged between ‘Chippendale’ and the striped sofa and armchairs, Russell's possession of furniture connected with a renowned Regency figure would have supported the transformation of Mottisfont into an artistic and intellectual society home. The Whistler Room, featuring a similar monopodium table. Photographed for Country Life, 1954.
Maud Russell's Donation to the Victoria & Albert Museum Whilst little is known about the whereabouts of Mottisfont's original furniture, donations made by Maud Russell prior to her death, alongside the 1983 auction catalogue from Sotheby’s, help to give an impression of the objects that once furnished the house. Amongst these is an ornate Neo-Gothic armchair now at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Donated by Russell in 1950, the chair’s elaborate embroidered upholstery and gilded wood features many of the same Gothic motifs incorporated into Whistler’s design at Mottisfont. Gothic-style armchair of carved and gilded wood, with original velvet upholstery on seat, back and arms, decorated with embroidery, ca. 1830. Donated by Maud Russell. Victoria and Albert Museum, W.42-1950. Archival documents and photographs have yet to reveal where the chair was placed at Mottisfont or the Russell's London home, or if it was ever placed in the Whistler Room. However, the chair's ornamental design could have potentially complemented the Whistler Room's theatrical trompe l’oeil paintings. The chair was featured in the Destruction of the Country House, 1875 - 1975, a publication which accompanied the famous 1974 exhibition of the same name at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Gilbert Russell's Coat of Arms ‘On Thursday I went to see Mr Butler, the Windsor Herald, at the College of Arms to make certain Rex was doing nothing extravagant with G.'s arms in the big room.’ Maud Russell, 9th July 1939 View of Gilbert Russell's coat of arms, painted in trompe l'oeil plaster on the northern wall of the Whistler Room. Surmounting the double doors on the northern wall, Rex Whistler incorporated Gilbert Russell’s coat of arms in a grandiose ‘crowning’ of the room. Gilbert was the great grandson of the 6th Duke of Bedford, and thus descended from a well-heeled aristocratic family. However, his father was the second son of the second son of the duke, and subsequently he was too far removed from the direct ducal line to enjoy any of its financial trappings. With this, despite bringing aristocratic allure to his relationship with Maud, Gilbert’s initial finances paled in comparison to Maud’s wealth, which came from banking. Maud's father, Paul Nelke, was a successful banker and co-founder of Nelke, Philips & Bendix, an important stockbroking firm based in London. Indeed, it would be through the assistance from Maud’s family that Gilbert would establish his merchant banking firm, Cull and Company. Whistler and Russell's decision to feature Gilbert’s aristocratic background so prominently in the room’s design hints to the aesthetic allure of nobility. Further, the pomp and splendour associated with Gilbert's ancestral background no doubt resonated with Whistler’s theatrical inclinations. Gilbert’s lineage was layered onto the room’s wall, leaving visitors in no doubt as to whose house they found themselves. Close-up view of Gilbert Russell's coat of arms, with the Russell family motto ‘Che Sara Sara’ (Whatever will be, will be).
Mottisfont's Layered History Mottisfont's design history is composed of an interconnected web of Gothic, Tudor, Georgian, and revival styles. This rich history is reflected in the 'layering' of history found throughout the house, including in the Whistler Room. View of the southern wall of the Whistler Room. Throughout Mottisfont, small sections of the original Gothic architecture are tucked away but not erased. In the White Bedroom, the original walls can be found behind hinged panels; in the Red Bedroom, whispers of the original archway are visible; in the basement kitchens, a detailed archway showcases coats of arms; and in the Whistler Room, Whistler used paint, gilding, and furniture to create a harmonious and dramatic snapshot of the building's past. In the Cellarium, the oldest surviving part of the building, the vaulted interior may have potentially inspired sections of Whistler’s design. In fact, photos in the Russell family's private albums show Whistler’s assistant, Victor Bowens, sitting in the Cellarium on his lunchbreak from painting the room, perhaps influenced by his surroundings.
Overmantel Miror ‘Gerry Wellesley, who is here, & to whom I happened to mention that you wanted a Gothic Chippendale mirror for ‘my’ room says that Mr. Peter Coats has a lovely huge one that he was trying to sell to the Vic & Albert Museum but they didn’t buy it. It was made for a house in Ayrshire. Gerry has just come along and said that it wasn’t Chippendale but Adam Gothic there was a mirror and a side table that went below. I don’t quite know what R. Adam’s idea of Gothic would be like but it might be lovely, mightn’t it?’ Rex Whistler, 20th August 1939 Details of the ‘Chippendale’ Mirror. NT 769324. Above the chimneypiece on the East wall is an exuberant overmantel mirror designed in a Rococo-Chinoiserie style, reminiscent of those popularized by Thomas Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). The giltwood mirror reflects the influence of leading furniture designers of the eighteenth century, including Thomas Chippendale, William and John Linnell, and William Ince and John Mayhew, among others. The correspondence between Russell and Whistler details her aim to find a 'Chippendale' mirror for the room. She would eventually purchase one in 1952 at the Arundell sale at New Wardour Castle in Tisbury, Wiltshire. Photographs taken of the castle in 1930 for Country Life show the mirror above the Drawing Room chimneypiece. Chippendale is believed to have worked at Wardour Castle and a trumeau mirror pictured in the same Country Life article was sold at Christie's in 1993 as a Chippendale Junior piece. Given this, and the the prevalence of Chippendale-style mirrors during the first half of the twentieth century, it is understandable why Russell and others have applied the name 'Chippendale' to the piece. The Drawing Room of Wardour Castle, photographed for Country Life, 1930. The Whistler Room mirror is visible above the mantelpiece. The inclusion of an overmantel mirror was considered by Whistler throughout his design process. His original drawings for the chimneypiece illustrate his initial intention to design an elaborate Gothic-style overmantel mirror draped in what appears to be the same velvet and Ermine trompe l’oeil ‘fabric’ of his pelmets. Another sketch for the room showcases a preliminary design for a mirror with the rough markings of intertwined arabesques and curves outlining its silhouette. This rudimentary drawing, which one might consider 'Rococo,' would be more in line with the eventual mirror that came to crown the chimneypiece. Whistler's original drawings for the chimneypiece, including his designs for an overmantel mirror. NT 770133. Early sketch by Whistler showing an intricate overmantel mirror above the chimneypiece. NT 770132. Comparable to the ‘Chippendale’ sofa and armchair, other than being referred to as ‘Chippendale’, little evidence exists to support a connection between the mirror and cabinetmaker. Furthermore, the sheer number of copies of this style of mirror during the first half of the twentieth century makes determining its provenance even more challenging.
Chimneypiece ‘I am wondering whether it might not look very pretty if the skirting were marbled in the verde antica marble that we are ‘inlaying’ in the mantel piece?' Rex Whistler, 17th February 1939 The eastern wall of the Whistler Room showing the chimneypiece and overmantel mirror (left), and a close-up of the chimneypiece marbling (right). Painted in shades of green and white, the chimneypiece of the room was 'marbled' by Whistler to evoke stone. His meticulous brushstrokes reveal an eye for detail, the marble effect seemingly realistic until examined up close. Scrutinized further, the 'marble' presents the same silhouette used in his design for the wall lights. Whistler's original drawings for the chimneypiece reveal an identical design to the finished result. Whistler's original drawings for the chimneypiece, including designs for an overmantel mirror. NT 770133.
Laurence Whistler - Bell Push Surrounds & Fingerplates The completion of Whistler’s decorative scheme was disrupted by his death during the Second World War. Perhaps as a tribute to the artistic talents of the artist, Russell commissioned Rex’s brother, Laurence Whistler, to design a set of engraved glass fingerplates (protective plates applied to doors to prevent finger smudges) and bell push surrounds for the space. Bell push surround designed by Sir Laurence Whistler and executed by Pugh Brothers in 1953. NT 769407. The bell pushes, which were executed from Whistler’s designs by the Pugh Brothers in 1953, are made of glass, back-engraved, and gilded. Photographs in private family albums indicate that Russell installed the bell push surrounds in the 1950s to communicate with Mottisfont’s servants. The fingerplates were installed by the National Trust in the 1980s and can be seen upon the double-doors beneath Gilbert Russell's coat of arms. Details of fingerplates designed by Sir Laurence Whistler and executed by the Pugh Brothers in 1953. NT 769406.
Button Back Settees 'Mottisfont, with its extraordinary amalgamation of medieval and Renaissance, was a building after Rex’s own heart and he represented something of the synthesis in this Rococo-Gothick decoration.' Country Life, 29th April 1954. The Whistler Room is home to three Victorian style button back sofas, each upholstered in ivory silk and ornamented with a green and white bullion fringe with a tasseled trellis overlay. Details of button back settees. NT 769327. Current records do not reveal precisely when, how, or where these furnishings were acquired by Russell. However, a connoisseurial study of the sofas (focusing on the square back, thick silk rep, and tied trellis fringe) suggests that they were produced in the 1920s or 1930s as part of the “revival” aesthetic encountered throughout the Whistler Room. View of south wall in the Whistler Room showing the two button back settees.
The Smoking Brazier ‘Rex came and we discussed trophies and Gothic armour. He chalked a Queen Anne vase on the wall which refused to look anything but Queen Anne, no matter how many Gothic twiddles he added, or how many scrolls he placed against it.’ Maud Russell, 15th May 1939 Rex Whistler painted the room’s most striking and theatrical element within the central niche of the western wall. The ornate smoking brazier, draped with a mantle of Ermine and flanked by a cittern (a Renaissance guitar), books, and a small pile of letters, showcases the strength of Whistler's skillset and imagination. Although Russell rejected his initial proposal to paint the wall with sweeping vistas, he persisted and used this section of the room to boldly demonstrate his talent as a painter. Whistler's Smoking Brazier. Placed directly opposite the chimneypiece, the reflection of the brazier’s billowing smoke in the overmantel mirror gives the impression of a smoking fire nestled within the fireplace below, demonstrative of the sense of theatre within Whistler’s work. As visitors to Mottisfont can experience today, the reflection gives the impression of a continuously burning flame, whether the fireplace is lit or not. This theatrical element, which heightens the ‘smoke and mirrors’ effect of Whistler's trompe l’oeil design, is demonstrative of the artist's unique ability to introduce a sense of spectacle into domestic interior spaces. Rex Whistler’s initial design for the brazier (left) and a close-up view of the 'smoke' (right). NT 769749. It is upon the brazier's flanking books that Whistler dated and autographed his work, whilst ‘carving’ into the base of it’s plinth ‘Great is the truth and it will prevail’, in Latin. With hindsight, the selection of this motto is poignant given that the Second World War commenced during the room’s completion.
The Chaise Longue View of the chaise longue positioned beneath the Smoking Brazier. Photographs in Country Life and private family albums reveal that the Whistler Room was once home to a Regency Egyptian revival style chaise longue. Although the sofa's current whereabouts are unknown, it was an integral part of the room's décor, as experienced by the Russell family. Its design is typical of Empire and Regency styles in the early nineteenth century, and the inclusion of elaborate birds heads at either end emulates the use of animal motifs in furniture by designers like Thomas Hope. Typically, this classical style of sofa would be one of a pair arranged facing each other. A mirrored twin of the Whistler Room sofa, offered at auction in 2022 by David Skinner Antiques & Period Lighting in Charleston, South Carolina, suggests that the Mottisfont piece possibly dates to the early nineteenth century and may have been crafted from mahogany with brass inlay and gilding. In photographs, the inlay and carved details of the two pieces appear to match. ‘English Regency Egyptian revival style mahogany, brass inlay, & gilt Recamier is finely carved with an Egyptian hawk head and finished on both sides.' Offered at auction in 2022 by David Skinner Antiques & Period Lighting, Charleston, South Carolina. Unfortunately, the designer(s) and/or maker(s) for the chaise longues are unknown, and subsequently cannot be attributed to anyone. However, whilst the relationship between the two seats is not clear, viewing them together helps to offer a more comprehensive image of how the Whistler Room and its furniture may have looked. Close-up view of ‘English Regency Egyptian revival style mahogany, brass inlay, & gilt Recamier is finely carved with an Egyptian hawk head and finished on both sides.' Offered at auction in 2022 by David Skinner Antiques & Period Lighting, Charleston, South Carolina.
This digital research project was created by James Kiernan (MA Decorative Arts and Historic Interiors, The University of Buckingham in partnership with The Wallace Collection) and Katrina Reynolds (Lois F. McNeil Fellow, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture), with generous support from the British and Irish Furniture Makers Online (BIFMO) and the National Trust. We thank Dr. George Roberts, Adriana Turpin, Dr. Nikki Frater, and Ann Davies, among many others, for their important and generous support of this project. If you are interested in learning more about topics related to the Whistler Room or British furniture, we encourage you to explore the following online and print resources:
- British and Irish Furniture Makers Online (BIFMO)
- The Furniture History Society (FHS)
- A Constant Heart: The War Diaries of Maud Russell 1938-1945, edited by Emily Russell (Wimborne, 2017)
- "Rex Whistler (1905-1944): Patronage and Artistic Identity," PhD thesis by Dr. Nikki Frater (University of Plymouth, 2014)
- The Laughter and the Urn: The Life of Rex Whistler, Laurence Whistler (London, 1985)
- In Search of Rex Whistler: His Life and His Work, Mirabel and Hugh Cecil (London, 2012)
- The Destruction of the Country House, 1875-1975, Roy Strong, et al. (London, 1974).