Rex Whistler Letters Reveal Tormented Love Story At Plas Newydd

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 02 October 2007
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a painting of a reclining female nude on a bed

A nude of Lady Caroline Paget painted by Rex Whistler and in the collection at Plas Newydd. © NTPL

A series of love letters written to Lady Caroline Paget, eldest daughter of the 6th Marquess of Anglesey, have recently been added to the collection of items relating to the life and work of artist Rex Whistler at Plas Newydd.

The National Trust property in Llanfairpwll, Anglesey, is the home of the Marquess of Anglesey and holds the largest collection of Whistler’s paintings and drawings, including proof editions of his famous illustrations for 'Gulliver’s Travels' and an 18 metre wide masterpiece covering an entire wall in the dining room.

The latest addition to this permanent exhibition sheds more light on the poignantly romantic tale of the artist’s unrequited love for Lady Caroline.

“Whistler’s fascinating correspondence with Lady Caroline carves out a remarkable love story and reflects the depth of his passion for her and his connections with the Plas," explained David Ellender, House Manager at Plas Newydd.

"Sadly, it would appear from the letters that any ‘romance’ between them was driven harder by Rex than Lady Caroline. Again, this is subtly reflected in much of his work.”

a photo of country house on a hill before sprawling lawns and a lake

Plas Newydd. © NTPL

Rex Whistler first met Lady Caroline at Daye House, the Wiltshire home of his mentor Edith Olivier when she and her sister Elizabeth dropped in one afternoon. They were therefore already acquainted when Rex came to Plas Newydd for the first time to discuss the plans of the 6th Marquess to paint the dining room mural.

Painted between 1936 and 1937, the mural shows Whistler’s characteristic humour but is also full of love – for the family as a whole, but most of all for Lady Caroline.

This love for Caroline – who tragically married someone else – is revealed in the coded references he includes in his Arcadian and Romantic view of a coastal landscape. The romantic allusions also include a depiction of Romeo and Juliet in which the young Whistler (Romeo) languishes beneath the balcony of Lady Caroline (Juliet).

Whilst he was working on the mural at Plas Newydd Caroline decided she was going to spend more time in London and Rex designed a ‘rococo style’ petition on Plas Newydd headed paper and signed by himself and Henry (later the 7th Marquess).

a painted mural showing a bay with ships in it seen from a classical style veranda

Whistler's mural at Plas Newydd. © NTPL

It says, “Beautiful darling Caroline, This is a petition to beg her to reconsider her decision to leave Plas Newydd on the evening of August 22nd 1937 and to defer her departure until given permission by Rex and Henry.”

Rex wrote to Caroline often and many of these letters can now be found in the exhibition room at Plas Newydd, which is the only permanent display of his works, anywhere.

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