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KATHERINE READ (1723-1778)
  • KATHERINE READ (1723-1778)


    Pastels on paper laid to canvas

    60 x 51 cm



    Anonymous sale, Bonham's, Knightsbridge, 18.10.2016, Lot 124 (as Circle of William Beechey)



    N. Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, online ed., J.612.552





    Katherine Read was born in Dundee, Scotland, to a prominent Jacobite family who were forced to flee to Paris following the uprising of 1745. She began her artistic education in that city, studying first under Robert Strange (1721-1792), a fellow Jacobite Scot, and later under the most celebrated pastellist of his day in France, Maurice Quentin De La Tour (1704-1788). 


    Together with many other Jacobite exiles from Scotland, Read immigrated to Rome in 1750. Her career advanced swiftly at this point, as she received numerous commissions for portraits in oil and pastel, often reproducing works by the Old Masters from around the city for visiting tourists. In Rome, she was befriended by the abbe Peter Grant, the Scottish Catholic Mission’s agent in Rome, who in turn introduced her to several prominent figures in Roman ecclesiastical circles, foremost of which was Cardinal Albani. Albani allowed Read access to his collection, from which she made four copies of heads by Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757), and engaged her to make portraits of several Roman princesses, before sitting to her himself. It seems that during her time in Rome she also was associated with Lord Charlemont’s short-lived academy for British artists living in the city. She remained in Rome for three years, and on her return journey to England she passed by Venice: here she at last met Carriera, perhaps the most famous pastellist in Europe at the time. As two women working in an often hostile artistic world, the two shared not only a preferred medium but undoubtedly a wealth of common experience, and Rosalba (who had sadly by this time gone blind) allowed Read to draw her portrait. 


    Upon her return to Britain, Read’s career reached its height, with the all-important letter of introduction from Cardinal Albani opening doors to the most rarified circles. Read received commissions from Queen Charlotte and other members of the English court and aristocracy. She was also fulsomely praised by several critics at the time, all of which aided her in establishing a reputation as one of the most in-demand pastellists in London. Such was Read’s success, that she enjoyed regular exhibitions with the Free Society and the Society of Artists, the latter of which accepted her as an honorary member in 1769. She would later join the Royal Academy, and by the end of her career in London she could command among the highest prices for pastel portraits in the city. 


    Before 1775, she traveled to India with her niece, Helena Beatson (1762–1839), to paint portraits of the English officers stationed there. Beatson married Charles Oakeley (1751–1826), who would become governor of Madras. In 1778, Read began the journey back to England due to her declining health, but died at sea on December 15, 1778.

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