Joan Fairfax Whiteside was a prodigious artist and illustrator. Born into an eminent Guernsey family, Joan Fairfax Whiteside was raised in a loving, but occasionally prohibitive, traditional home. Her youthful ambitions of becoming an actress or musician were discouraged by her father as unsuitable occupations. Fortunately, her hopes for an artistic career proved more successful – aided by a kindly uncle who offered to fund her tuition.
Exhibiting at The Royal Academy and Royal Society of Portrait Painters while also working as an illustrator, Fairfax Whiteside was both credible artist and commercial success. Her work so impressed one newspaper art editor that he was determined to raise her profile when he later became an art agent. With the advent of World War II, however, Fairfax Whiteside’s skills were destined for a more scientific end.
Fairfax Whiteside studied at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art in Chelsea, London. Founded in 1845, it was the first art school to admit women on equal terms with men. After graduating, she made great strides as an artist and illustrator, despite popular prejudice against women in the profession. Indeed, on her agent’s advice, Fairfax Whiteside judiciously signed her paintings ’J’ to conceal her gender.
In 1945, Fairfax Whiteside joined the Royal Air Force as a Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross. Posted to the RAF Hospital at Halton, she nursed injured airmen and turned her hand to medical illustration – documenting reconstructive surgery in forensic detail. She worked in this capacity throughout the war, for which she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal and a visit to Buckingham Palace to meet George VI. Later, she also became a founding member of the Medical Artists’ Association.