John Reed (art patron)

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John Reed
Born(1901-12-10)10 December 1901
Evandale, Australia
Died5 December 1981(1981-12-05) (aged 79)
OccupationArt editor and patron
Spouse(s)Sunday Reed (m.1932–81; his death)
ChildrenSweeney Reed (adopted)

John Harford Reed (10 December 1901 – 5 December 1981) was an Australian art editor and patron, notable for supporting and collecting of Australian art and culture with his wife Sunday Reed.


Reed was born at 'Logan', near Evandale near Launceston, Tasmania, one of seven children. His youngest sister, Cynthia later married artist and printmaker Sidney Nolan. In 1911 the Reeds left Launceston for England to promote their children's education. When World War I broke out they returned to Tasmania to settle with John Reed's grandmother at Mount Pleasant, a mansion in Prospect, Tasmania. His grandfather was Henry Reed. He attended Geelong Grammar between 1915 and 1920, and subsequently studied law at Cambridge University.

After graduating he returned to Australia to practise law in Melbourne, where he met Sunday Baillieu.[1] They married on 13 January 1932.[2] In 1934 they purchased a former dairy farm on the Yarra River floodplain at Bulleen, a suburb of Melbourne, which became known as Heide. A number of modernist artists, known as the Heide Circle came to live and work at Heide at various times during the 1930s, '40s and '50s, and as such it became the place where many of the most famous works of the period were painted. Albert Tucker, Sidney Nolan, and Joy Hester, among others, all worked at Heide. Nolan painting his famous series of Ned Kelly works in the living room there.

The Heide Circle is well known for the intertwined personal and professional lives of the people involved. Sunday Reed conducted affairs with a number of them, with the knowledge of her husband. Most famously, Sidney Nolan lived in a ménage à trois with John and Sunday Reed at Heide for several years until July 1947.[3] Philippe Mora's film Absolutely Modern premiered in 2013. Based on 1940s Heide, it tells of Modernism, the female muse and the role of sexuality in Art.[4] David Rainey's 2014 play The Ménage at Soria Moria is a fictitious performance piece exploring the relationship between the Reeds and Sidney Nolan – both the heady days at Heide during the 1940s, and the less well known degeneration over the next 35 years.[5]

After reading first issue of the modernist literary magazine, Angry Penguins, Reed visited its editor, Max Harris, in Adelaide. Reed subsequently gave up his legal practice and ran Victoria's Contemporary Art Society instead.[6] Reed became the publisher of Angry Penguins, which subsequently became famous for the notorious Ern Malley hoax.[7] The Reeds worked to establish the Heide Museum of Modern Art which opened in November 1981.


Reed died in his home on 5 December 1981 five days before his 80th birthday and almost a month before his 50th wedding anniversary. Sunday Reed died 10 days after him on 15 December.


  • Reid, Barrett; Underhill, Nancy, eds. (2001). Letters of John Reed: defining Australia's cultural life, 1920–1981. Ringwood, Vic: Viking. p. 943. ISBN 0-670-81506-3.
  • Lesley Harding & Kendrah Morgan (2015) Modern love: the lives of John & Sunday Reed, Carlton, Victoria The Miegunyah Press, an imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited, in association with Heide Museum of Modern Art, State Library Victoria. ISBN 9780522862812


  1. ^ "Launceston Lives". Launceston City Council. Archived from the original on 23 August 2006. Retrieved 26 October 2006.
  2. ^ Burke, Janine (January 2004). The Heart Garden: Sunday Reed and Heide. Milsons Point, New South Wales: Random House. p. 94. ISBN 1-74051-202-2.
  3. ^ "Ménage à trois". aCOMMENT. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Review of 'Absolutely Modern'". aCOMMENT. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  5. ^ "The Ménage at Soria Moria". aCOMMENT. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  6. ^ Harris, Samela (2003). "Angry Penguins". Ern Malley, the Official Website. Retrieved 26 October 2006.
  7. ^ "Ern Malley". aCOMMENT. Retrieved 19 July 2014.

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