It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Benedict Read aged 71, son of the eminent art critic and poet Sir Herbert Read, but more importantly a formidable academic in his own right.
Born in Seer Green, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire in 1945, the youngest child in the Read family, he studied English Literature at the University of Oxford and then History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. As well as teaching at the Courtauld Institute, he was Deputy Witt Librarian there until 1990, when he became Senior Lecturer in the History of Art in the then Department of Fine Art at the University of Leeds.
At the University of Leeds he was also Director of the MA Sculpture Studies programme, under the auspices of the Henry Moore Foundation from 1990 to 1997. On his retirement in 2010 he was appointed as Senior Visiting Research Fellow.
Dr Joanne Crawford, Lecturer in History in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies (and a former colleague and student of Ben), said:
“During his career, and particularly during his time at the University of Leeds, Ben wrote many articles, books and essays on c19th and c20th art and architecture.
“He inspired and educated students who, even after many years, always remember him with fondness. From his rendition of Vera Lynn singing ‘We’ll meet again’ in lectures on mid c20th public sculpture to his vast knowledge of British art and architecture, Ben Read was a person who demonstrated great understanding of what it is to be both social and academic. He was always a formidable presence in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies and visited regularly after he retired, not only to give talks within the wider environs of Leeds but also to just pop in and chat to his colleagues.
“During his time at the university he was a staunch believer in solidarity, with both colleagues and students, as well as a great source of fun, gossip and wealth of information regarding his life and experience. He grew up surrounded by the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Peggy Guggenheim, and although he liked to recite anecdotes about growing up in the Read household, his great (albeit often secret) loves were the Arsenal football team and a good gin and tonic!
“He always had a healthy approach to art, particularly his own impressive collection, not keeping it locked up as an investment but allowing it to be shown and appreciated by all ― even allowing his prized Kurt Schwitter collages to be borrowed by the Fine Art student collective ‘Leeds 13’ for their final academic assessment of the Degree Show in 1999.
“Ben was a great man, not only with regard to his academic profile and achievements, but especially to the people who knew and loved him. He will be missed, not only in the immediate days after his death but, more importantly, he will be remembered by the people whose lives he touched, from artists to fellow art historians, friends and colleagues. As a man of great modesty he wouldn’t have asked for more than that, and it is the very least he deserved.”