Whistler in the wind

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There is much more recognition of Rex Whistler these days, but his brother Laurence has also left behind some amazing work. Here are two windows – inscribed on glass with scriber and drill – from St Nicholas Church, Moreton, Dorset.

Summer, Laurence Whistler

Detail of the Seasons window, with butterflies about to burst from the bubble

The church was hit by a German bomber in World War II, and rebuilt with the windows engraved or deep cut, acid-etched or sandblasted by Laurence Whistler with craftsmen where necessary. These images (with a little adjustment) are reproduced from the guide book and are originally from Scenes and Signs on Glass from the Cupid Press, Woodbridge.

The Trinity Chapel window, Laurence Whistler

Trinity Chapel window, 1982

The Trinity Chapel window is a tribute to a pilot shot down in the Battle of France in 1940, and genuinely stunning. Sunlight and rain reveal nature regenerating, with scenes of Salisbury Cathedral near to where the pilot was stationed, and his cottage home. Vapour trails are suspended and in the corner is a broken propeller bearing two sets of initials and the dates of the pilot’s brief marriage.

I can’t help thinking this would have been quite a personal and possibly a difficult project. In his book Initials in the Heart, Laurence Whistler records the happiness of his marriage to the actress Jill Furse, and the cottage in Devon they shared. She died in 1944 at just 28. It was the same year in which his brother Rex was killed in the war.

Laurence Whistler, Jill Furse, 1941

Laurence Whistler and Jill Furse, with family, Devon, 1941, from Initials in the Heart, published by Rupert Hart-Davis, 1964

I’ve collected quite a few of Laurence Whistler’s books of poems and his biographies of his brother. The diligence with which he kept memory alive is incredibly moving, and I think he is an excellent, insightful writer.

More of that another day…

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8 thoughts on “Whistler in the wind

  1. I have been to that church in Dorset some years ago and loved the windows. I think it was also near where Lawrence of Arabia lived/died. Looking forward to more!

  2. Janet

    Thank you for this article, very interesting. I am just starting out on the ‘Whistler’ adventure, both Rex, Laurence and Simon appear to have been incredibly talented. My copy of Initials in the Heart has arrived this week so will look forward to reading it. Fortunate to live in Dorset/Wiltshire border area so surrounded by places to visit their works. I plan to go to St. Nicholas to see the windows. Went over to visit again the Whistler Room at Mottisfont, an incredible room which appears to have been completed in under a year, suppose the threat of war on one’s shoulder hastened projects…

    • Thanks for reading… I hope you managed to catch the summer exhibition at Salisbury, I travelled there just in time before it closed the next day (I think the collection is going to become permanent though). I’m sure you’ll enjoy ‘Initials in the Heart’ – you should try to get hold of a copy of ‘The Laughter and the Urn’, Laurence Whistler’s biography of his brother – he writes so well. I revisited Mottisfont too, the same weekend as the exhibition. When I was a child the windows weren’t shaded and it was a lighter, brighter experience (and perhaps more colourful as the sun must have bleached it a little). I love the details such as the packet of cigarettes and the note about the outbreak of war.

      • Janet

        Hello, I didn’t get to see the exhibition sadly. I did pop in to the museum shop on Saturday and asked if there would be a permanent display, not sure I was asking the right person though so will pop in again soon.
        Yesterday I went over to Moreton to see the beautiful windows, took some pictures especially of the butterflies and other insects in the ball. It was incredibly difficult to photograph, much more difficult than the actual butterflies depicted, one of my favourite pastimes
        I have just bought a copy of the Initials in the Heart, signed by Simon Whistler, not sure why he had signed it, also managed to order a copy of the Laughter and the Urn from the library so have lots of things to read.

    • Fascinating stuff – thank you… didn’t know all the background story, and definitely one to see. Have been occupied away from blog with some studying and other life stuff but plan to get to back in some form or other!

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