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Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
Birthday show for Whistler's art
Whistler nude thought to be Lady Caroline, sister of the 7th Marquess of Anglesey
A nude thought to be of Whistler's lost love
A major retrospective of the work of the artist Rex Whistler opened on Anglesey on Saturday to mark the centenary of his birth.

The show at Plas Newydd runs until 12 October.

The National Trust-owned house is already home to a large collection of work by the London-born artist, who was a friend of Lord Anglesey's family.

Whistler was killed in action in World War II, aged 39. He left work including murals and theatrical backdrops.

At Plas Newydd, on the banks of the Menai Straits, Whistler's 58-foot mural dominates the dining room.

After being commissioned to paint the mural, Whistler became a friend of Lord Anglesey's family. During his many visits to the house he painted personal references into the work.

He also worked as a book illustrator and as a scenic painter for the theatre.

Whistler tower
The tower, painted complete with scaffolding

One of the paintings is of a nude, thought to be Lady Caroline, sister of the seventh and current Marquess of Anglesey and Whistler's unrequited love.

The marquess said: "They say that it's a picture of Caroline and it's very likely that it is, although I don't remember seeing her nude, so I can't tell!

"But I expect it is - he was so madly in love with her, although she wasn't so madly in love with him".

The exhibition also features a 15ft x 8ft painted scene over the rooftops in Paris. It was used as a backdrop at the Player's Theatre in London for the play Lucky Jim.

"It's extremely exciting but it's very difficult to choose which works to put on show, although the priority is to show things that haven't been displayed in the past," said Liz Bibilo, National Trust curator for North West Wales.

Apart form the larger works more personal items will also be on display.

Sense of humour

"We have a paying-in book which Whistler has drawn on - he was a great doodler," she added.

David Ellender, house manager at Plas Newydd, said it was an opportunity to see work not usually on display.

"People visit us just to see Whistler's work. They come back time after time to see the mural where they see new things every time," he said.

Whistler painted himself in this picture, with the current marquess as a boy on his bicyle
He loved the house and was terribly good at enjoying life here - he was such good fun, it was laughter all the time
Marquess of Anglesey

Whistler's sense of humour is well documented.

He repainted part of the mural after the Marquess of Anglesey complained it was "too busy" .

A tall sailing ship was replaced by a tower but in typical style he also painted in scaffolding.

"He told the marquess at breakfast the next day the scaffold was there in case he needed to take the tower down later," said Mr Ellender.

The current marquess, a boy when Whistler spent four years working on the mural, said the artist would stop painting if the weather was fine and work through the night.

"He loved the house and was terribly good at enjoying life here - he was such good fun, it was laughter all the time".

Whistler became a tank commander during World War II and was killed fighting in Normandy on his first day in action.


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