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Herbert Read

  • The British art historian Herbert Read established himself as a central figure in the London artistic scene in the 1930s and was one of the outstanding supporters of exiled artists.
  • Herbert
  • Read
  • Sir Herbert Edward Read

  • 04-12-1893
  • Stonegrave, Yorkshire (GB)
  • 12-06-1968
  • Stonegrave, Yorkshire (GB)
  • Art HistorianArt CriticPoet
  • The British art historian Herbert Read established himself as a central figure in the London artistic scene in the 1930s and was one of the outstanding supporters of exiled artists.

    Word Count: 30

  • Howard Coster, Herbert Read, 1934 (Art in Britain 1930–40 1965, 5).
  • The British writer and art historian Herbert Read established himself as a central figure in the London intellectual and artistic scene in the 1930s and was editor of the well-known art historical Burlington Magazine. Read lived from 1933 at Mall Studios behind Parkhill Road in Hampstead, in the immediate vicinity of artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson (both of whom worked at Mall Studios) and Henry Moore (11a Parkhill Road). Over the following years, a number of emigrant artists and architects also settled in Hampstead. Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and for a time László Moholy-Nagy, lived in Lawn Road Flats (Lawn Road), and Piet Mondrian moved into his studio at 60 Parkhill Road.
    The London suburb of Hampstead demonstrates how productive the connection between exile and art was, and how fruitful was the creative “close proximity” (Read 1965b, 8). Creative communities developed there in the 1930s, with emigrants seeking proximity to local artists, who in turn benefited from interaction with the exiled creatives.

    Herbert Read and his partner Margaret ‘Ludo’ Ludwig held regular parties in their studio at Mall Studios, which became a contact zone for emigrant and local artists. The poet Geoffrey Grigson recalls: “The exodus from Hitler’s Reich having begun, one might walk into the solemn dignified company of Gropius to fine oneself face to face with slow-smiling Moholy-Nagy from the Bauhaus (furniture all round to match, as far as could be found). Ben and Barbara from next door would be there, and the Moores from down the road.” (Grigson, in Maclean 2021, 128) Herbert Read compared artistic life and work in Hampstead to Florence or Siena in the Quattrocento: “There was an unusual degree of mutual sympathy and understandig between us, an unusual intensity of effort and feeling, and the formation of a ‘front’ vis-à-vis the indifferent public.” (Read 1965a, 5) This proximity gave rise, for example, to Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art, the manifesto in whose creation Marcel Breuer, Naum Gabo, Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy and Ben Nicholson, among others, were involved. Herbert Read was to become one of László Moholy-Nagy’s most important supporters and described him in an article for Architectural Review as “one of the most creative intelligences of our time” (Read 1935; Carullo 2019, 14). In 1946, when Moholy-Nagy had long been in Chicago and was directing the new bauhaus, Herbert Read gave a lecture there (Moholy-Nagy 1946).
    Read particularly appreciated the “inspiring presence of Walter Gropius” (Read 1965a, 6) and was one of the 135 guests at the Farewell Dinner for Gropius which saw the Bauhaus architect off to the USA in 1937.

    Meanwhile, other important collectors and patrons lived in Hampstead. The art collector Margaret Gardiner, who was committed to the artistic avant-garde of her time, such as Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo, lived at 35 Downshire Hill (Bohm-Duchen 2019, 160.). Across the road from Gardiner, at 21 Downshire Hill, lived, from 1936, the artist and collector Roland Penrose who, together with David Gascoyne and Herbert Read, organised the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries (11 June–4 July 1936). The 20th Century German Art exhibition, co-organised by Herbert Read among others, opened at the same venue in 1938 and exhibited artists defamed by the Nazi Degenerate Art exhibition. Artists who had emigrated to London were also on show.
    Herbert Read took an early interest in the work of Kurt Schwitters and integrated his work into his book Art Now, which was published by Faber & Faber in 1933. Herbert Read, who produced a large number of articles and books during the 1930s, also wrote the catalogues for Jack Bilbo’s Modern Art Gallery, thereby drawing attention to emigrated artists. Herbert Read wrote the catalogue texts for the theatre artist Hein Heckroth’s exhibition at the Modern Art Gallery (1943), ensuring a certain amount of public and press attention. One year later, in December 1944, the German artist Kurt Schwitters had a solo show at the Modern Art Gallery which brought together works from his London years and was accompanied by a catalogue written by Read, who focused on the use of everyday materials in Schwitters’s work (Read 1944, in Erlhoff/Stadtmüller 1989, 32). The collage For Herbert Read (1944) shows Schwitter’s use of tickets, newspaper cuttings, fabric and scraps of paper. In other collages of the London period, Schwitters also used the tickets he had used to travel from Barnes to central London (Chambers 2013, 14; Orchard 2013, 61).

    Herbert Read’s commitment to emigrants manifested itself in many ways. He had appreciated the work of the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner ever since he published his two books Pioneers of the Modern Movement from William Morris to Walter Gropius (1936) and An Enquiry into Industrial Art in England (1937). In 1946, Read wrote the preface to Pevsner’s Visual Pleasures from Everyday Things. An attempt to establish criteria by which the aesthetic qualities of design can be judged, published by the Council for Visual Education (C.V.E.), of which Read was vice-chairman. Herbert Read also had contact with the emigrated art historian Rosa Schapire. As early as 1948, Schapire had been asked to loan two works by Schmidt-Rottluff for an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, co-founded in 1947 by Roland Penrose and Herbert Read among others. Read was also an important contact person for the emigrated textile designer Margaret Leischner, introducing her to English designers and following her work in England with interest (Read 1944). On the occasion of John Heartfield’s 50th birthday, Herbert Read, wrote in 1941 in Freie Deutsche Kultur, the bulletin of the Free German League of Culture: “John Heartfield is one of those rare artists who have extended the range of our aesthetic sensibility by inventing a new technique. He has seen the creative possibilities of montage – of the photograph as a plastic material which can be manipulated and made to produce effects independent of its mechanical origin.” (Read 1941, 6).
    Herbert Read wrote also a review on The Warburg Institute’s exhibition English Art and the Mediterranean and gave in this way recognition to a research institute with an exile background.

    Read was a close friend of Eva and Walter Neurath, émigré founders of the Thames & Hudson publishing house. Anna Nyburg wrote that Read’s “special contribution was to heighten their interest in modern art, bringing Thames & Hudson a new and rich theme for publication.” (Nyburg 2014, 170).  Read, who had published several books with Faber & Faber, from 1959 published his manuscripts as survey works on modern art with Thames & Hudson, including A Concise History of Modern Painting (1959), A Consice History of Modern Sculpture (1964) and The Styles of European Art (1965).
    In view of Herbert Read’s extensive connections with emigrant organisations, institutions and individual emigrants, it can be argued that the art historian, along with the Bishop of Chichester and the biologist Julian Huxley, was probably one of those Englishmen who stood out for his special support for the exiled.
    The Marlborough Fine Art gallery, founded by the Viennese emigrants Harry Fischer and Frank Lloyd, dedicated the catalogue for Art in Britain 1930–40 centred around Axis, Circle, Unit One to Herbert Read on his 70th birthday in 1965 and printed two texts by him in which he recalled his time in Hampstead.

    Word Count: 1185

  • Howard Coster, Herbert Read, 1934 (© National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG x19537).
    “Map showing where some of the people connected with the modern movement in art lived in Hampstead during the 1930s.” (Art in Britain 1930–40 1965, 9).
    Mall Studios behind Parkhill Road in Hampstead, occupied during the 1930s by Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Cecil Stephenson and Herbert Read (Art in Britain 1930–40 1965, 8).
    Herbert Read. Art Now. An Introduction to the Theory of Modern Painting and Sculpture. Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1933, cover (METROMOD Archive).
  • Art in Britain 1930–40 centred around Axis, Circle, Unit One, exh. cat. Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1965.

    Bohm-Duchen, Monica. “Modernist Sanctuary: Hampstead in the 1930s and 1940s.” Insiders Outsiders. Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Visual Culture, edited by Monica Bohm-Duchen, Lund Humphries, 2019, pp. 157–164.

    Carullo, Valeria. Moholy-Nagy in Britain 1935–1937. Lund Humphries, 2019.

    Chambers, Emma. “Schwitters und England.” Schwitters in England, edited by Emma Chambers and Karin Orchard, exh. cat. Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover, 2013, pp. 6–19.

    Erlhoff, Michael, and Klaus Stadtmüller, editors. Kurt Schwitters Almanach, vol. 8. Postskriptum-Verlag, 1989.

    MacLean, Caroline. Circles & Squares. The Lives & Art of the Hampstead Modernists. Bloomsbury, 2021.

    Moholy-Nagy, László. Letter to Ben Nicholson. Ben Nicholson Papers (Tate Library and Archive, London, 29 March 1946).

    Nyburg, Anna. Émigrés. The Transformation of Art Publishing in Britain. Phaidon, 2014.

    Nyburg, Anna. “Émigré Art Publishers.” Insiders Outsiders. Refugees from Nazi Europe and their Contribution to British Visual Culture, edited by Monica Bohm-Duchen, Lund Humphries, 2019, pp. 115–119.

    Read, Herbert. Art Now. An Introduction to the Theory of Modern Painting and Sculpture. Faber & Faber, 1933.

    Read, Herbert. Art and Industry. The Principles of Industrial Design. Faber & Faber, 1934.

    Read, Herbert. “A New Humanism.” Architectural Review, October 1935, p. 151.

    Read, Herbert. “Paul Klee.” Paintings and Watercolours by Paul Klee, exh. cat. The Leicester Galleries, London, 1941a, pp. 2–6.

    Read, Herbert. “Zum 50. Geburtstag von John Heartfield.” Freie Deutsche Kultur, no. 6, 1941b, p. 6.

    Read, Herbert. Letter to Margaret Leischner. Margaret Leischner Papers (Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, 5 December 1944).

    Read, Herbert. “Foreword.” Nikolaus Pevsner. Visual Pleasures from Everyday Things. An attempt to establish criteria by which the aesthetic qualities of design can be judged, Council for Visual Education (C.V.E.), 1946, pp. 2–3.

    Read, Herbert. “British Art 1930–1940.” Art in Britain 1930–40 centred around Axis, Circle, Unit One, exh. cat. Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1965a, pp. 5–6.

    Read, Herbert. “A Nest of Gentle Artists.” (1962) Art in Britain 1930–40 centred around Axis, Circle, Unit One, exh. cat. Marlborough Fine Art, London 1965b, pp. 7–8.

    Word Count: 313

  • University of Leeds Special Collections, Herbert Read Archive.

    Word Count: 8

  • Burcu Dogramaci
  • 3 Mall Studios, Parkhill Road, Belsize Park, Hampstead, London NW3 (residence, 1933–c.1937).

  • London
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Herbert Read." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 28-04-2021.
  • Rosa Schapire
    Art Historian

    The art historian Rosa Schapire, a supporter of Expressionist art, contributed to the presence of Expressionist art in England with loans and donations from her art collections rescued to London.

    Word Count: 30

    László Moholy-Nagy
    PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor

    László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

    John Heartfield
    ArtistGraphic DesignerFotomonteur (mounter of photographs)

    After escaping from his first exile in Prague in December 1938, the political artist John Heartfield lived in London since 1950, working for Picture Post and the publisher Lindsay Drummond.

    Word Count: 28

    Kurt Schwitters

    The artist and poet Kurt Schwitters lived in London between 1941 and 1945, where he stood in contact to émigré and local artists, before moving to the Lake District.

    Word Count: 27

    Margaret Leischner
    Textile Designer

    The designer Margaret Leischner lived in England from 1938, worked for textile and furniture companies, taught at the Royal College of Art and was honoured as Royal Designer for Industry.

    Word Count: 29

    Visual Pleasures from Everyday Things

    Visual Pleasures from Everyday Things is a booklet written in 1946 by the emigrated architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner with the aim of aesthetic education and teacher training.

    Word Count: 26

    Farewell Dinner for Walter Gropius

    Friends and colleagues came together on 9 March 1937 to send off the architect Walter Gropius and his wife Ise Gropius, who had decided to leave for the United States.

    Word Count: 28

    20th Century German Art

    The 20th Century German Art exhibition of 1938 gave visibility to artists who had been defamed at the Munich exhibition Entartete Kunst and were persecuted by the National Socialist regime.

    Word Count: 29

    Modern Art Gallery
    Art Gallery

    The Modern Art Gallery, founded by the émigré painter, sculptor and writer Jack Bilbo, was a forum for the presentation of modern art, specialising in the work of emigrant artists.

    Word Count: 30

    Thames & Hudson
    Publishing House

    The emigrants Eva Feuchtwang (later Eva Neurath) and Walter Neurath founded the Thames & Hudson publishing house in 1949, which published art history books, photo books and collection catalogues.

    Word Count: 28

    The Warburg Institute
    Research Institute

    The Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg in Hamburg achieved a new presence in London after 1933 under the name The Warburg Institute as a research institution with a library and photo archive.

    Word Count: 29

    Faber & Faber
    Publishing House

    Faber & Faber shows the importance of publishing houses as supporters of contemporary art movements and of the contribution of emigrants, helping to popularise their art and artistic theories.

    Word Count: 29

    Julian Huxley

    Julian Huxley was the director of London Zoo from 1935 to 1942 and worked closely with emigrant photographers, artists and architects, including Berthold Lubetkin, Erna Pinner and Wolf Suschitzky.

    Word Count: 27

    Marlborough Fine Art
    Art Gallery

    Marlborough Fine Art was founded in 1946 by the Viennese emigrants Harry Fischer and Frank Lloyd in the Mayfair district, focused on Impressionists, Modern and Contemporary Art.

    Word Count: 26

    Freie Deutsche Kultur

    The Free German League of Culture was an association of emigrant artists and authors who organised exhibitions, concerts and lectures. The events were announced in the Freie Deutsche Kultur newsletter.

    Word Count: 30