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Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners

by Rex Whistler
oil on artist board, 1929
15 7/8 in. x 13 in. (402 mm x 329 mm)
Purchased, 1975
Primary Collection
NPG 5050

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

A painter of landscapes in particular, he is shown by Whistler at work on a canvas in his house at 3, The Forum, Rome.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Clerk, Honor, The Sitwells, 1994 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 14 October - 22 January 1995), p. 109 Read entry

    Osbert probably met Gerald Berners (1883-1950) towards the end of the First World War on one of his visits to Robert Ross in his rooms at Miss Burton's establishment in Half Moon Street where Berners was also a tenant.1 The eccentric aristocrat, composer, writer and painter with his independence of spirit, disregard for convention and total dedication to the arts, became to a certain extent a role model for Osbert. He quickly established a close friendship with all three Sitwells, entertaining each other at Carlyle Square and at Berners's house in Halkin Street (where in mocking emulation of Osbert he had placed a huge bowl with one solitary press cutting in the entrance hall). They met on holidays abroad in Austria, Italy and Greece; at house parties at Sir Philip Sassoon's house, Port Lympne: and naturally at Renishaw, Weston and Berners's house, Faringdon.

    It was Sachevcrell, however, with his passion for music, who formed the closest ties with Berners, and collaborated with him on the Diaghilev ballet, The Triumph of Neptune, in 1926. In 1931 Sacheverell dedicated Spanish Baroque Art to Berners, and following one of the regular financial crises that beset Sacheverell and Georgia during this period they accepted Berners's invitation to go and live with him at Faringdon, taking Nannah and their first child Reresby with them. 2 The following February, when they all moved up to Berners’s London house, William Walton joined them to make a foursome in the increasingly glittering social circles in which they were now moving.3 In 1937 Georgia quarreled with Berners over his disloyalty to Emerald Cunard during the abdication crisis4 but the quarrel had been patched up by the outbreak of the war and visits to Weston were renewed.5

    Rex Whistler had been offered an honorary scholarship to the British School in Rome in 1928, and that summer, with an introduction to Lord Berners (who had a house at 3 The Forum), found himself being chauffered around Castel Gandolfo and Lake Albano in Berners's famous Rolls.6 The following year, six weeks after his return from Bavaria, Whistler returned to Rome as Berners’s guest for five weeks and produced a number of paintings, including this portrait of his host. 'Alas, only too like him! And so it cannot give much pleasure.

    He is so charming and kind', Whistler wrote home to his friend Edith Olivier.7 Indeed the painting remained unsold until offered to the National Portrait Gallery by Laurence Whistler in 1975. On the back of the board is inscribed in the artist's hand Lord Berners, started afternoon July 12th 1929/13th/Finished 14th, showing the speed with which Whistler painted his apparently finely detailed works. Another painting of the same room at 3 The Forum (with a self-portrait of the artist at the easel and Berners seen on the balcony beyond) is at Faringdon.

    1 Osbert Sitwell, Laughter in the Next Room, 1949, p 28.

    2 Sarah Bradford, Sacheverell Sitwell, Splendours and Miseries, 1993, p 226.

    3 Ibid., p 233.

    4 Ibid., p 263.

    5 Ibid., p 287.

    6 L. Whistler, The Laughter and the Urn, 1985, p 121.

    7 Ibid., p 146.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 53

Placesback to top

  • Place portrayed: Italy (sitter's home, The Forum, Rome)

Events of 1929back to top

Current affairs

The first election held under universal suffrage is a victory for Labour. Ramsay Macdonald returned for his second term as Prime Minster, and appointed Margaret Grace Bondfield as the first woman Cabinet Minister.

Art and science

Two classic books about the First World War are published: All Quiet on the Western Front, by war veteran, Erich Maria Remarque, tells of the horrors of war and the returning German soldiers' feelings of detachment from civilian life; while Robert Grave's autobiography Goodbye to All That, aimed to describe the author's experiences of the war so that they 'need never be thought about again'.


The 24th October 1929 becomes known as Black Thursday when the US Stock Exchange Collapses and millions are lost. The event was the start of the Wall Street Crash, which in turn contributed towards the Great Depression: a major international recession that lasted through most of the 1930s.

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