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Herbert Read Collection

Herbert Read Collection

The Herbert Read Collection is comprised of the Herbert Read Library and the Herbert Read Archive. The collection includes rare books and presentation copies with author inscriptions, typescripts and drafts of Read's essays and publications, exhibition catalogues, and correspondence with significant artists, writers, editors, thinkers and educationalists. It is a rich resource for researchers interested in subjects including modern art and literature, art education, anarchy, poetry, and publishing, as well as the networks of individuals working in these areas from the early to the mid-twentieth century.

Herbert Read

Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968) was a First World War poet, art historian, editor, publisher, novelist and literary critic. He was a close friend and colleague of T.S. Eliot and one of the earliest critics to champion the work of artists including Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore, all of whom were personal friends. Read wrote the catalogue introductions for both Unit One in 1934 and the International Surrealist Exhibition held at the New Burlington Galleries in London in 1936; he was a director of the Design Research Institute between 1943-1945, and co-founded the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1947. Read was a passionate advocate of modernism who favoured the Romantic tradition; an avowed anarchist who was made a Knight; and a figure of international reputation whose preferred home was rural North Yorkshire.

As a publisher, editor, and reviewer for the Criterion and Burlington Magazine and organisations including Faber and Faber and Routledge, and as a sought-after advisor and board-member Read influenced the lives and careers of generations of artists and writers. He lectured throughout the world, judged artworks at the Venice Biennale and for UNESCO, and was a trustee of the Tate Gallery. He was an indefatigable correspondent, and responded as generously to letters from unknown painters and poets as to those who were well-known. Throughout his lifetime Read considered himself first and foremost as a poet. His name is recorded on the First World War poets' memorial at Westminster Abbey, and the epitaph on his grave in Kirkdale reads 'Knight. Poet. Anarchist.'

The Herbert Read Library

The Herbert Read library contains over 14,000 publications including rare and first editions, as well as editions of Read's own works in multiple languages. It offers an unparalleled insight into Read's diverse interests and was clearly used as a working library. Many of the books contain letters, reviews and newspaper clippings, while others are inscribed to Read or annotated by him. The library was acquired in 1992 and before it was moved from the Read family home at Stonegrave to the University of Leeds each book was given a running number. The books therefore remain in the sequence that they were on the shelves in Read's home, with the order of Read's books retained, as well as the individual volumes.

The library was acquired for the University of Leeds with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Herbert Read Archive

The Herbert Read archive was acquired from the Read family in several tranches from the 1990s. The collection is divided into series which reflect Read's interests, connections and activities. Where these series were ordered into files prior to arrival at Special Collections, these files have been maintained.

Series include:

  • Material relating to Read's First World War service
  • Writing and research by Herbert Read
  • Publishing correspondence, agreements and sales
  • Editorial and advisory work
  • Events
  • Travel
  • Awards
  • Correspondence from individuals and organisations
  • Personal, including family correspondence

Read's correspondence is extensive and includes letters from over 600 individuals, sent from locations worldwide. There are significant tranches of correspondence from Barbara Hepworth, Ruth Francken, Kathleen Raine, Peggy Guggenheim, Edward Dahlberg, and Marcus Brumwell, as well as approximately 180 letters from Read to the literary scholar and academic Bonamy Dobrée. In addition to these there are over 200 letters between Read and Margaret Ludwig, the musician who would become Read's second wife. These letters offer an intimate glimpse of the thoughts, emotions and preoccupations of the famously reticent Read mainly during the early 1930s.

The Read archive was fully listed in 2020 with the support of the Archives Revealed Cataloguing Grants scheme. This built on preliminary scoping work which had been undertaken following a grant from the Strachey Trust in 2017.

The Herbert Read archive at the University of Victoria

In the mid 1960s, concerned about his health and wishing to provide security for his family, Read sold most of his manuscripts and significant tranches of his correspondence to the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. A handlist of the Herbert Read Fonds at Victoria is available. After the sale, Read continued to correspond with some of the people whose letters he had sold, so some tranches of correspondence are divided between the University of Leeds and the University of Victoria. A recent project has reunited Barbara Hepworth's letters to Read held at both universities, and they can now be viewed together on the University of Victoria's digital collections platform, Vault.

Artworks in the University of Leeds Art Collection

During his lifetime Herbert Read was lent and gifted significant works of art, by the artists who were his friends, and those he worked and collaborated with including: Paul Nash, Kurt Schwitters, and Ben Nicholson. In 2017 a number of these artworks were gifted to the University of Leeds in the bequest of Benedict Read. A project to research Herbert Read's art collection was supported by the Henry Moore Foundation in 2022 and resulted in the online exhibition: Man Behind the Moderns: the Art Collection of Herbert Read.