Laurence Whistler

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Laurence Whistler photographed by Howard Coster in the 1950s

Sir Alan Charles Laurence Whistler CBE (21 January 1912 – 19 December 2000)[1] was a British poet and artist, working in particular in glass engraving.

Early life[edit]

Whistler was a son of architect and estate agent Henry Whistler and Helen Frances Mary, daughter of Rev. Charles Slegg Ward, vicar of Wootton St Lawrence in Hampshire, whose wife, Jessy, was granddaughter of the goldsmith and silversmith Paul Storr.[2]


In 1935, Whistler became the first recipient of the King's Gold Medal for Poetry. Verse works of his included 'The Emperor Heart' ; 'Four Walls'; 'Armed October and other Poems'; and 'In Time of Suspense', in 1940, published by William Heinemann. He also wrote a biography, 'Sir John Vanbrugh, Architect and Dramatist'. However, he began engraving to supplement his income, and later largely turned away from verse.[1]

He engraved on goblets and bowls blown to his own designs, and (increasingly, as he became more celebrated) on large-scale panels and windows for churches and private houses. He also engraved on three-sided prisms, some of them designed to revolve on a small turntable so that the prism's internal reflections completed the image. The best-known of these was done as a memorial to his elder brother, Rex Whistler.

His early works include a casket for the Queen Mother, and a hinged glass triptych to hold her daily schedule. Other engravings of his can be found, for example, in Salisbury, where his family lived during part of his childhood, including a pair of memorial panels with quotations by T. S. Eliot, and the Rex Prism in the Morning Chapel, both in Salisbury Cathedral; at the Ashmolean Museum; at Balliol College, Oxford where he was an undergraduate, and St Hugh's College, Oxford, where he also designed the Swan Gates leading from the college grounds onto Canterbury Road;[3] at Stowe House in Stowe, Buckinghamshire; at the village church of St Nicholas at Moreton, Dorset, where every window was engraved by him over about 30 years; and in the Corning Museum of Glass (USA).[citation needed]

In 1947, Whistler created one of the wedding gifts for Princess Elizabeth, a glass goblet engraved with the words of a 1613 poem by Thomas Campion, written for the marriage of Elizabeth of Bohemia, daughter of James I.[4]


Whistler's many honours included an OBE (1955) and a CBE (1973). In 2000, not long before his death at the age of 88, he was created a Knight Bachelor.

In 1975 he became the first President of the newly founded British Guild of Glass Engravers.

Personal life[edit]

In 1939 Whistler married the actress Jill Furse.[5] Their son, Simon (1940–2005)[6] was a musician and also a notable glass engraver.[7] Jill died in 1944, of blood poisoning, soon after giving birth to a daughter; Laurence's brother, Rex Whistler, died the same year. In 1950 he married Jill's younger sister, Theresa (1927–2007), and they had two children; the marriage was later dissolved. In 1987 he married a third time, but was divorced in 1991.[1]


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Whistler, Sir (Alan Charles) Laurence (1912–2000), glass engraver, writer, and architectural historian, by Robin Ravilious
  • The Initials in the Heart. Michael Russell Publishing Ltd. (June 2000) ISBN 0-85955-257-8
  • Point Engraving on Glass (The Decorative Arts Library). Walker Books Ltd. (September 1997), ISBN 0-7445-1894-6
  • The Laughter and the Urn: The Life of Rex Whistler. Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd (January 1986) ISBN 0-297-78603-2
  • The Image on the Glass. Cupid Press (1975), ISBN 0-7195-3275-2
  • Stowe: Guide to the Gardens. E. N. Hillier & Sons, 3rd (further revised) edition (January 1, 1974)
  1. ^ a b c Green, Janet (6 January 2001). "Obituary: Sir Laurence Whistler". the Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  2. ^ Paul Storr 1771-1844, Silversmith and Goldsmith, N. M. Penzer, Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1971, pp. 16-17
  3. ^ Bayley, John (8 July 1999). "Obituary: Rachel Trickett". the Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  4. ^ "Royal wedding 1947: Glass goblet engraved by Laurence Whistler". The Royal Collection. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015.
  5. ^ "Jill Furse". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  6. ^ "The Whistler Window". West Lavington Parish Council. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  7. ^ "Question: Laurence and Simon Whistler". Wiltshire Community History. Wiltshire Council. Retrieved 25 November 2020.