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Herbert Read

(1893—1968) poet, literary critic, and writer on art

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After a brief spell as a bank clerk the British writer, critic, and poet Herbert Read studied at Leeds University before serving in the army in the First World War. He became an important figure in the promotion of Modernism in Britain, developing friendships with key figures such as the poet T. S. Eliot, the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and the painter Ben Nicholson. After working in the Treasury from 1819 to 1922 he developed his interests in the visual arts through employment as an Assistant Keeper at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1922 to 1931. This impetus was furthered through his appointment to the Watson Gordon Professorship of Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh from 1931 to 1933, followed by a period of six years as editor of and contributor to the Burlington Magazine. Amongst the most important texts promoting Modernism published in Britain was Read's Art & Industry: The Principles of Industrial Design (1934), the layout of which was designed by former Bauhaus tutor Herbert Bayer. In this seminal text, the designer was portrayed as an abstract artist working in industry, reconciling facets of design such as materials, form, colour, and proportion with modern mass‐production technology. Read felt that the designer should play a central role in modern manufacture, rather than the low‐paid, subservient role that generally prevailed. Read was also involved with the avant‐garde group of artists and architects who formed Unit One in London in 1933 and Circle (1937), an interdisciplinary survey of international Constructivist art. In addition to Read, contributors to the latter included Breuer, Le Corbusier, Gropius, Moholy‐Nagy, and Mondrian and subjects covered ranged from art and architecture, biotechnics, and choreography to engineering and typography. He was also a leading figure in the mounting of the controversial Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1936. During the Second World War Read was a director of the Design Research Unit, established in 1943, which was to emerge as a significant consultancy in the post‐war period. With Roland Penrose, in 1948 he founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London which, amongst other things, provided a focal point for the Independent Group in the early 1950s. He was knighted in 1953. Amongst his other writings relating to the visual arts were Art Now (1933), Art & Society (1937), Education through Art (1943), Modern Painting (1959), and Modern Sculpture (1964).

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