Brian Reade

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Below was sent to me by Stephen Wayne Foster:

This is entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Reade, Brian Edmund (1913–1989), art historian and critic, was born on 13 January 1913 at Holwood, 42 Trumlands Road, St Marychurch, Torquay, Devon, the second child and only son of Thomas Glover Reade (1870–1952) and Susan Mary (1873–1960), daughter of the Hon. William King of Queensland, Australia. T. G. Reade, a painter, was for many years art master at Torquay grammar school; his teaching was regarded by informed opinion as the best of its kind, and his art classes were used as a model by the Board of Education in its 1924 report on art teaching in England.

The young Reade was sent to Montpelier, a preparatory school at Paignton, and to Clifton College, where his unconventional manners and his habit of walking about Bristol in carpet slippers did not endear him to dull teachers. During term his great pleasure was to quarter the medieval streets of the city (which were out of bounds to pupils at the school), making himself familiar with the workshops of glass-blowers and wax candle makers; during the holidays he explored the cliffs and beaches of Petitor, Babbacombe, and Anstey's Cove, collecting natural history specimens in a matchbox. Precocious and imaginative, Reade as a boy was already recognizable as the man he became: independent, single-minded, intellectually curious into out-of-the-way knowledge, and intent on conducting original research.

In 1931 Reade went up to King's College, Cambridge, to read history under Sir John Clapham. He obtained a first class in part two of the history tripos and was awarded a studentship by the college to research the lost and dispersed art collections of Charles I. He travelled widely in Germany, Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, and Turkey in search first of baroque and then of Byzantine art and architecture, about both of which he was passionately knowledgeable. In 1936 he abandoned his research because the subject was too large for a single scholar to master, and took a post in the department of prints and drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum. He regarded the accepted English taste of the day, as represented by the Bloomsbury group, as narrow and provincial; his own enthusiasm was for the work of Klee, Picasso, Rouault, Ernst, and the German expressionists.

When the Second World War broke out, Reade worked at the War Office and was later seconded as a photographic interpreter to an intelligence unit working with the allied forces headquarters in Europe. On 24 April 1941 he married Margaret Tennant (b. 1916), daughter of his godfather Edmund Ware, and herself a talented artist in enamels and lithography who had studied at the Slade School. They had one son, Alban.

After the war Reade returned to the museum and began to publish the results of his researches. Edward Lear's Parrots (1949), a short, authoritative study of the subject, was followed by The Dominance of Spain (1951), a history of Spanish costume in the sixteenth century, and Regency Antiques (1953), which was notable for its author's rediscovery of George Bullock, a forgotten cabinet-maker whose work he described and made famous. Later his work on the Enthoven collection, core of a national archive of ballet design, was to bear fruit as Ballet Designs and Illustrations (1967). In the meantime he began to make a reputation as an organizer of exhibitions, among them the Edward Lear exhibition for the Arts Council (1958), the art nouveau and Alphonse Mucha show at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1963), and the Beardsley exhibition there (1966), which became legendary: it was the most successful and influential exhibition of its kind ever mounted by the museum and it captured the imagination of the thousands of visitors who flocked to see it. Reade's catalogue, a model of precise and learned commentary, has been the foundation of all subsequent work on Beardsley and established Reade as the doyen of Beardsley studies. His own large illustrated monograph, Aubrey Beardsley (1967), removed the artist from his position as the subject of an esoteric cult and gave him finally the status of a great master of design. The exhibition went to New York and Los Angeles, and Reade was offered several museum directorships in America, all of which he refused on the grounds that he wished to retain his independence.

Sexual Heretics (1970), a substantial by-product of Reade's enthusiasm for the 1890s, was an anthology of late nineteenth-century homosexual prose and verse with a long scholarly introduction. In 1971 he published a volume of his own poems, Eye of a Needle, and in 1987 a revised edition of his monograph on Beardsley. Reade was appointed deputy keeper in the department of prints and drawings in 1958; he retired in 1973. His last exhibition (1972) was on Louis Wain, an unusual artist in whom Reade had been interested for twenty-five years. The manuscript of Reade's biography of Wain, which was based on documentary material that included the private diaries of the alienists who treated Wain in his last years, was lost in the post and has never been found.

After his retirement Reade acted as adviser to several more Beardsley exhibitions around the world and wrote his last word on the subject, Beardsley Re-Mounted (1989). In 1977 he succeeded Henry Williamson as president of the Eighteen-Nineties Society.

A friend who knew him in his fifties described Reade as formidable in mind and appearance. He was tall, slender, and aquiline, with a fine voice and a perfectionist sensibility. He was often silent in company. His colleagues at the museum were used to finding him on the floor of his office, sunk in meditation among piles of paper, hidden in swirling clouds of smoke from the elegant oval Turkish cigarettes he liked.

Not long after his retirement Reade and his wife moved back to St Marychurch, to the house he had inherited from his father. His last years were marred by a mysterious disease resembling multiple sclerosis, which was never satisfactorily diagnosed. He lost the use of his legs and was confined to a wheelchair, but continued to enjoy talking to the young scholars and researchers who came constantly to seek his help and advice. He also endured periods of bitter frustration and depression. He died at home on 1 November 1989, leaving four volumes of unpublished memoirs and stories; he was survived by his wife and their only son. His remains were cremated on 10 November at Torquay.

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