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Benedict Read

Benedict Read, BA, FSA

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 19 October 2016, of Benedict Read, former Senior Lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.

Ben was born in Buckinghamshire in 1945 and was brought up in a household that treasured and debated both art and literature – the son of the eminent art critic and poet, Sir Herbert Read, he was also the younger brother of the writer Piers Paul Read and the half-brother of the documentary maker John Read. Ben himself had a wide range of cultural interests, which he was encouraged by his parents to explore.   He initially read English Literature at Oxford, going on to study History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where he subsequently taught as well as serving with distinction as Deputy Witt Librarian.   It was at the Courtauld Institute that Ben began to investigate what was then the much-neglected subject of Victorian sculpture, upon which he became a noted expert, as well as the sculpture of the inter-war period (on which he wrote, in 1986, one of the definitive essays in the book Sculpture in Britain between the Wars).   He also studied and discoursed upon subjects as diverse as architecture and the Old Masters.

Ben joined the University of Leeds in 1990 as a Senior Lecturer in History of Art in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies.   Between 1990 and 1997 he was also the Director of the MA Sculpture Studies programme, under the auspices of the Henry Moore Foundation, in which role he was able to explore in further depth, with characteristic enthusiasm and erudition, a wide range of movements in sculpture, both historical and contemporary.   He made a hugely significant contribution to the teaching and research of the School and to the wider art world – for example as an external examiner for the Cyprus College of Art; as chair of the editorial committee of the Sculpture Journal; and, closer to home, as Chair of the Leeds Art Collections Fund (now the Leeds Art Fund, and one of Britain's oldest supporting art gallery ‘friends’ organisations).   On his retirement from the University in 2010 he was made a Senior Visiting Research Fellow in Fine Art and continued to contribute with great energy and insight to the work of the School.


Ben’s friend and colleague, Dr Joanne Crawford, has provided the following:

“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 (you had to be there!) 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 just to 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 with regards 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;  he even allowed it to be borrowed by ‘Leeds 13’ the Leeds University final degree show of 1998.

“He was a great man, not only with regards his academic profile and achievements, but especially to the people who knew and loved him.   He will be missed, and not only in the immediate days after his death;  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.”

The funeral service will be held at 12 noon on Monday 14 November 2016 at The Church of the Holy Ghost and St Stephen, 44 Ashchurch Grove, London W12 9BW, on which day the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast in Ben’s memory.

The family has requested that no flowers be sent – optional donations instead may be given to Diabetes UK in Ben’s name.