Read was born in Dundee Scotland, on 3 February 1723, to Alexander and Elizabeth Read, and one of thirteen children of an affluent Forfarshire family. She may have received her education in Edinburgh. Her mother was the sister of Sir John Wedderburn, a man who’d fought in the Jacobite rising of 1745, and whose daughters were cared for by Read after his execution.
When the war ended at the Battle of Culloden and with family friends fleeing to France, Read’s family was prompted to follow suit for their association and support of the Jacobite cause through her uncle. Through their connections of the gentry, they were given sanctuary in Paris, France that same year and introduced to the painter Robert Strange -whom is speculated to be Read’s teacher and introduction into the French artistic sphere. There she studied other works of art and improved her skills with little hindrance or instruction; it would have been hard for her to have been accepted into an academy class as a woman, let alone a foreigner whose family had a price on their heads for aiding and supporting a cause against the King of England.
This period was not to last, however, as she fled to Rome in 1750 along with a majority of the Jacobites that’d sought refuge in Paris. While there, she became friends with members of the Roman Catholic Church, often commissioned to recreate master paintings in oil or pastel for those in higher positions of the church’s hierarchy. One of these faithful patrons, Cardinal Albani, allowed Read to copy some of his Carriera portraits from his personal collection, which ultimately led the man to sit for her himself.
She remained in Rome until deciding to venture to England in 1753, with the blessing of Albani -who managed to help her keep face regardless of her family’s past alignment in the war. This era was not only filled with a healthy stream of patronage and commissions, as Read was communicating and submitting samples to the Society of Arts for their collection and approval of fixing pastels. However, her methods, when compared to fellow artist Sebastien Jurine’s own, were considered inferior as she used a different type of pastel than he.
In 1764, Read was on the road back to Paris for commissioned portraits of Madame Elisabeth through the Dauphin. Her work was shown by the Free Society (1761-1768) and the Society of Artists (1760-1772) -of which she became an honorary member in 1769 along with the two other female pastel artists Mary Benwell and Mary Black in response to the Royal Academy accepting Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser into their respective fold. Later, after a failed petition to the king, Read left to join the Royal Academy and was expelled from the Society as consequence.
New pastel artists rose into the public’s view and Miss Read no longer commanded such a following. In 1771, she left England with her niece, Helena Beatson, to sail to India to paint the portraits of the English Officers living there. Her health deteriorated while abroad and Miss Read found herself on a boat back to England in 1778, unfortunately dying while on the voyage.
Read was for some years a fashionable artist in London, working in oils, crayons, and miniature. From 1760 she exhibited almost annually with either the Incorporated Society of Artists, the Free Society of Artist, or the Royal Academy, sending chiefly portraits of ladies and children of the aristocracy, which she painted with much grace and refinement.
Let candid Justice our attention lead,
to the soft crayon of the graceful Read.
Miss Read resided in St. James's Place, London until 1766, when she removed to Jermyn Street. In 1771 she went to India with her niece, Helena Beatson, a clever young artist, who there married, in 1777, (Sir) Charles Oakeley, bart., governor of Madras. She is reported as being in that country in 1775 and 1777, and as dying at sea near Madras.
Her death is recorded as 15 December 1778.
On resuming her practice, Miss Read settled in Welbeck Street. Many of her portraits were well engraved by Valentine Green and James Watson, and a pair of plates, by J. Finlayson, of the celebrated Gunning sisters, the Duchess of Argyll and the Countess of Coventry, remained popular.
- Caw, Sir James Lewis (2009). Scottish Painting, Past and Present, 1620-1908. General Books LLC. pp. 49–. ISBN 978-1-150-59407-6. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
- Miss Katherine Read, Court Paintress, A. Francis Steuart, The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Oct., 1904), pp. 38-46 (abstract)
- Jeffares, Neil. "Read, Katherine" (PDF). Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists Before 1800 (2016): 1-17. Retrieved 23 December 2016.
- O'Donoghue, Freeman Marius (1896). "Read, Catherine". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Edwards, Edward; Walpole, Horace (1808). Anecdotes of painters who have resided or been born in England;: with critical remarks on their productions;. Leigh and Sotheby. pp. 75–. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
- Thomson Willing,
- Sparrow, Walter Shaw. Women Painters of the World etc (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1905) pp. 61 & 84. 3 portraits by Catherine Read.
- Graves, Algernon. The Society of Artists of Great Britain, 1760-1791, the Free Society of Artists, 1761-1783: a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from the foundation of the societies to 1791 (George Bell & Sons, 1907) pp. 208–9. A list of works exhibited by Catherine Read at the "Society of Artists" and the "Free Society of Artists".
- Chadwick, Whitney. Women, Art, and Society. Londres: Thames & Hudson, 2012. Print.
Media related to Catherine Read at Wikimedia Commons
- Paintings by Catherine Read (Art Renewal Center)
- Portrait of Elizabeth, Duchess of Argyll and Hamilton? (attributed to Catherine Read - Royal Collection)
- 4 paintings by or after Catherine Read at the Art UK site