Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Read, David Charles

653275Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 47 — Read, David Charles1896Campbell Dodgson

READ, DAVID CHARLES (1790–1851), painter and etcher, was born at Boldre, near Lymington, Hampshire, on 1 March 1790. He went to London at an early age, and worked under (John?) Scott the engraver; but, his health suffering, he returned to the country, and engraved plates for a ‘Pilgrim's Progress’ published by Sharp at Romsey (1816–17), and other works. In January 1820 he settled at Salisbury, where he continued to reside in the Close until 1845. He had ample though unremunerative employment as a drawing-master, and spent his spare time in sketching in pencil, water-colour, and oils. He worked chiefly in the open air, and prided himself on the fidelity with which he rendered effects of weather and atmosphere. In 1826 he made his first experiments in etching, and produced numerous plates between that date and 1844. He was a rapid draughtsman, and etched as many as five plates in one week. The total number of his etchings is 237. Sixteen of these are portraits, including two of Goethe, and one of Handel after Hogarth; the remainder are landscapes. Their merit is very unequal. At the best, it is far from justifying the artist's challenge to Rembrandt and the other great landscape-etchers; at the worst the drawing is often faulty, and a black and harsh effect is produced by the mechanical cross-hatching of the shadows. Technically, Read's work is interesting from the extensive use of dry-point, unusual with English etchers of this date, which he borrowed from Rembrandt. Many of his later plates are disfigured by roulette work, which is more conspicuous in the earlier states, as he would afterwards disguise it with dry-point or bitten lines. Read sent his earliest plates to be printed in London, but soon obtained a press and pulled off all the impressions with his own hand. None of the etchings are common, as they had a very limited circulation, and Read was too scrupulous to permit any further impressions to be taken from a plate which showed signs of wear. Six series of etchings were published by him between 1829 and 1845. The fifth of these (1840) was a series of thirteen views of the English lakes. The remainder were selected from his miscellaneous works. Two series were dedicated to Queen Adelaide. The artist speaks in a letter of ‘the chilling neglect that attended their first publication,’ though he was flattered by the appreciation of Goethe, Mendelssohn, and a few English connoisseurs. In 1845 he destroyed sixty-three of the plates; the rest were destroyed by his family after his death. He presented to the British Museum in 1833 and 1842 two volumes containing 168 of his etchings, many being in several states. Another collection, formed by his patron, Chambers Hall, is in the university galleries, Oxford; but the most complete is that at Bridgewater House, formed by the first Earl of Ellesmere. A small catalogue of the etchings was printed at Salisbury in 1832. An exhaustive manuscript catalogue, with a memoir of the artist, compiled (1871–4) by his son, Raphael W. Read, F.R.C.S., is in the print-room at the British Museum.

On leaving Salisbury in 1845, Read spent more than a year in Italy, and on his return devoted himself to painting in oils, producing some of his best pictures for Dr. Coope between 1846 and 1849, though he did not exhibit after 1840. Between 1823 and 1840 he sent one landscape to the Royal Academy, seven to the British Institution, and six to the Suffolk Street Gallery. His health became seriously impaired towards the end of 1849, and he died at his residence, 24 Bedford Place, Kensington, on 28 May 1851.

Read etched his own portrait from a water-colour sketch by J. Linnell (1819), which was in 1874 in his son's possession.

[Manuscript Cat. of Read's etchings, by R. W. Read; Graves's Dict. of Artists; Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 31 May 1851.]

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