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 Thomas Buchanan Read  (1822 - 1872)

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Lived/Active: New York/Pennsylvania      Known for: portrait, historical, landscape

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Ad Code: 3
Thomas Buchanan Read
from Auction House Records.
A Pair of Portraits of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Chester County, near Guthriesville, Pennsylvania, Thomas Read became a painter of portraits and historical subjects, illustrator and sculptor, and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy and the National Academy of Design. In addition, he was one of the most popular poets of his era.

At age ten, he ran away from home to Cincinnati to join his sister, having apprenticed to a tailor in his home town to earn travel money. In Cincinnati he found employment in several stores including being a grocer's helper, a cigar maker, a painter of canal boats, chiseler of tombstones, sign painter, itinerant portraitist, and a player of female parts in a theatrical troupe.

Because of his obvious art talent, he attracted the patronage of Nicholas Longworth, who provided him with a studio. By 1840, having also established a reputation as a portraitist, Read won a commission to do a portrait of General William Henry Harrison. The attention and praise this painting brought him was the beginning of a prolific career of portrait painting, although his lasting reputation was for paintings with historical and literary subjects.

He also was a sculptor, and in 1839, he became an assistant to the sculptor Shobal Vail Clevenger. In 1841, Read moved to Boston, where he became friends with painter Washington Allston and poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 1845 his first book of poems was published and from that point until his death he devoted himself to both his painting and poetry. He lived in Philadelphia from 1846 to 1850, when he left for Europe, returning there in 1853-54 and again after the Civil War. In Europe he associated with the intelligensia including many prominent painters and sculptors.

Read was back in America during the Civil War, working for the Union cause on the staff of General Lew Wallace as a public-relations Major for whom he gave lectures and created propaganda visuals. In 1865 he briefly established a studio in New Orleans to paint a portrait of General Philip H. Sheridan and then returned to Italy where he remained primarily until his death in 1872.

Although Read spent most of his adult years in Italy, he was one of the first Americans to become friendly with the English Pre-Raphaelites. Also acquainted with American sculptors in Italy, Read, like them, tended to choose subject matter that was religious and ideal. An example of this idealism is his painting, "A Painter's Dream" (1869, Detroit Institute of Arts) which shows an artist dreaming of an ideal woman, a Venus who floats above him, ready to serve as his muse. He also did Indian subjects including a painting titled "Hiawatha's Wooing".

Thomas Buchanan Read died in 1872.

Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Artists"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Peggy and Harold Samuels, "Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West"

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