Rex Whistler, The Hall and Staircase, Mells, Somerset

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
The Hall and Staircase, Mells, Somerset
Medium and support
Oil on board
Overall height: 24 cm, Overall width: 34 cm
Rex Whistler (1905-1944)
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed: ‘Katharine from Rex March 1942’


In 1907, Lady Frances Horner’s second daughter, Katharine (1885–1976), married Raymond Asquith (eldest son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith), who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Raymond and Katharine’s eldest son, Julian Asquith, 2nd Earl of Oxford and Asquith (1916–2011) later inherited Mells Manor, and their second daughter, Lady Perdita Asquith, married William George Hervey Jolliffe, 4th Baron Hylton. John Jolliffe (b. 1935), pictured here, was the second of their three children. While Frances Horner had been a prominent member of the ‘Souls’, her daughter Katharine became a member of the second-generation group of friends, known as the ‘Coterie’. Like her mother, Katharine associated with a wide circle of artists and writers including Eric Gill, Evelyn Waugh and Siegfried Sassoon. Through Sassoon, the family was introduced to the artist and illustrator Rex Whistler, famed for painting prominent members of fashionable London society, including Edith Sitwell, Cecil Beaton and other members of the set to which he belonged, who became known as the ‘Bright Young Things’.

Rex Whistler painted this intimate interior of Mells Manor in March 1942, at which time he was undergoing army training on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The scene depicted is the main stair in Mells and it appears that Whistler must have been sitting by the main door in order to complete the painting. Seated half-way up the stairs is John Jolliffe, then aged seven. The family’s red setter, Jupiter, sits at the top of the stairs.1 To the left is a passage with a gilded angel on a pedestal and a hanging blue overall and a pair of Wellington boots. The painting is inscribed to Katharine Asquith, Jolliffe’s grandmother. Two years after this painting was made, Whistler, a second lieutenant in the Welsh Guards, was sent to France in June 1944, a few weeks after the D-Day landings. In July 1944 he was killed in action outside the town of Caen, aged thirty-nine.

by Devon Cox


Ronald Fuller and Lawrence Whistler, The Work of Rex Whistler, London : Batsford, 1960, p. 22


  1. John Jolliffe, via Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, private communication, 20 July 2020.


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