Harold Hope Read (1881-1959)

Conversation on the Beach

Pen and watercolour


Born in Greenwich to a Quaker family, Read attended art college and in 1907 took up at Bolton Studios in South Kensington. By 1910 he was in Brighton, seeking inspiration from the beaches and residents of the town. He took a studio at College Place, where William Orpen also had a studio, and was introduced to William Rothenstein, the younger brother of Read’s patron Charles Lambert Rutherston. Rutherston, having inherited a fortune, was a collector of works by the members of the New English Art Club and was a well-known patron of young artists. Rutherston presented Manchester City Art Gallery with a large volume of works in 1928, the Rutherston Gift, which includes paintings by Read.

Read was a regular exhibitor at – for instance –  the New English Art Club, Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and The Pastel Society, also exhibiting in 1927 at the Royal Academy. Additionally he drew political cartoons for Punch and the London Evening Standard.

Narrative scenes, with figures involved in day-to-day life but often with a hint of the comic, are a hallmark of Read’s work. Here an elderly gentleman, somewhat inappropriately attired for the beach even in Edwardian terms, is looking away from the sea, probably heading home from the beach. A smartly-dressed lady beside him wearing high heels, surely a challenge on the beach, regards the bathers in the sea. Meanwhile two pairs of figures on the right are engaged in conversation. An older pair perhaps discussing the incongruity of the elderly gentleman’s attire whisper conspiratorially; a younger pair, sitting on the sand – one wearing a red hat providing a splash of colour in the centre of the painting – chat happily, and a smaller child looks on, probably uncomprehendingly.