David Charles Read

Castle and Lake


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
David Charles Read 1790–1851
Etching on paper
Image: 102 × 146 mm
Presented by Stephen Somerville 1977

Catalogue entry


Etching, 4 × 5 3/4 (10.1 × 14.6), on paper 4 3/4 × 6 5/8 (12 × 16.8); plate mark 4 × 5 3/4 (10.1 × 14.6)
Presented by Stephen Somerville 1977
Prov: ...; I. J. Coussell, included in an album of landscape studies (126 watercolours and some etchings), sold Sotheby's 15 July 1976 (11), bt. Somerville & Simpson Ltd.
Lit: D. C. Read, Catalogue of Etchings, after his own designs, by D. C. Read, Salisbury, 1832 (77); Raphael W. Read, MS catalogue of etchings by his father D. C. Read, compiled in triplicate in 1874, one copy presented by the compiler to the Print Room, British Museum (99).

Read chiefly worked as a drawing-master and reproductive engraver, but aspired to be a landscape artist. Constable, meeting him in Salisbury about 1821, found Read's copies in oils from Claude and Van de Velde ‘very far from bad, and very much better than I expected’. It was Read's attempts to extend his ‘little local reputation’ which prompted Constable's well-known remark ‘The feild of Waterloo is a feild of mercy to ours’; but Constable's initial sympathy for a struggling fellow-artist soon changed to exasperation at Read's persistently inflated ideas of his own genius. By 1823 Constable confided to his friend Archdeacon Fisher ‘the truth...is that he is ignorant of every rudiment of art-without one grain of original feeling-without one atom of talent’. Read's only exhibited painting seems to have been the ‘Boys and Sheep’ shown at the RA in 1823 (404); and his landscape drawings and etchings found few purchasers. Read countered this lack of public recognition by talking of ‘future fame being preferable to present flattery’ and, when ‘exalted’ at a wine-party in Salisbury, prophesying that posterity would say ‘here Read walked and there he sketched’ (quotations are from R.B. Beckett (ed.), John Constable's Correspondence, VI, The Fishers, 1968, pp.78, 108, 138, 253).

Read published five or six series of etchings between 1829 and 1844. In a dedication (to Mrs James Hussey) of his Views of the English Lakes, 1840, Read declared that it had always been ‘more my study to catch the grander features of the Landscape than to embody those minute details which are incidental rather than necessary, to the general effect’, adding that he was ‘well aware...that in so doing I have run counter to the spirit of the age, which delights more in microscopic finish, than in the free and expressive touch of the Masters of old time’. Read's admiration for Rembrandt's etchings (evident to some degree in T02249-T02251) was great, though not great enough to deter him from inviting comparison with the master (Read, Catalogue, 1832).

Read presented two albums of his etchings to the British Museum, the first in 1833, the second in 1842. He included various states, where more than one existed; the fact that only one state of ‘Castle and lake’ is included in the album presented in 1833 suggests that he felt no need (or no inclination) to rework the plate. In his Catalogue of Etchings, 1832, Read included ‘Castle and lake’ in his list of ‘Plates etched in the year 1831’, and offered it for sale at seven shillings. In this catalogue, Read quotes a letter of praise from Goethe; and according to his son (MS catalogue, 1874), a large collection of Read's etchings was made by the 1st Earl of Ellesmere. Otherwise they seem to have attracted little attention. Bound in with the second album of etchings presented to the British Museum in 1842 is a letter in which Read declared that his etchings had been ‘produced and published in obscurity and distress’, and that despite the ‘intense anxiety and thought’ he had bestowed on them, they had met with ‘chilling neglect’.

The detailed manuscript catalogue of his father's etchings compiled in 1874 by Raphael Read lists and painstakingly describes 237 etchings (chiefly landscapes, but including 16 portraits, among them a self-portrait) and includes a biographical sketch, a chronological list and an alphabetical index. By profession an inspector of military hospitals, Raphael Read had evidently been brought up with a feeling of deep reverence for his father's work, and a strong sense of his duty to redress the ‘chilling neglect’ which had attended it.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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