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Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

An obsessive, armchair attempt to assemble a comprehensive bibliography, not just for the work of a poet, but for his entire life.

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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«  Posts from 28 January 2009  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

30.7.2014


I am looking for a painting. Specifically, I am looking for "Portrait of Henry Reed," painted by John Melville (1902-1986), the English surrealist associated with The Birmingham Group. A photograuvre reproduction of the painting appeared in the Penguin New Writing, vol. 27, in 1946. I'm keenly interested to know where this portrait currently resides:

Portrait of Henry Reed

Logically, the portrait was created prior to 1946. A potential clue to its genesis appears in Reed's 1954 radio play, The Private Life of Hilda Tablet. During the course of the play, the renowned composeress Hilda Tablet directs the narrator, "Herbert Reeve" (wink, wink), to interview a friend and artist, affectionately called "Bunny":

Hilda:   R. Egerton Bunningfield, ARA. He painted a damn good portrait of me in 1943.
   (fade chords behind Mr Bunningfield. He seems rather weighed
   down by unsuccess
)

Bunningfield:   Well, yes, the picture has been much admired, and it was very good of Miss Tablet to sit for it. I asked her to, you know. It was meant to be one of a series of great women of the time, their part in the war effort. Naturally, I wasn't quite prepared for quite all the conditions Miss Tablet imposed. I wanted her to be playing an instrument, of course, but what I had in mind was a clavichord or the like, with highlights on a brocade dress and so on. I never imagined she would insist on the instrument being a bugle, though I agree it was appropriate to a picture illustrating the war effort and that. And she also insisted on it being an open-air composition; that's the whole of the Pennine Chain in the background... And quite frankly, Mr Reeve, she's the kind of figure I really would have preferred to have painted draped... but no, she insisted...
   (fade last words behind chords)

Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Plays for Radio (1971), p. 70

Is the character Bunningfield an homage to Reed's Birmingham chum? Did Melville ask Reed to sit for him in 1943, as part of series of wartime portraits of Birmingham notables? It's difficult to know for sure which details of the radio plays are lifted entirely from Reed's life. The mention of the Pennines is intriguing as well, since it places the fictional painter in northern England (not terribly far north of Birmingham). All this is speculation, of course, and I could be wrong as wrong.

I got to thinking about Reed's misplaced portrait this evening, after learning that the BBC announced today a commitment to digitize all 200,000 of Britain's oil paintings in public ownership, and have them available online by 2012. More information on the effort, and the BBC's "deeper commitment to arts and music," at the Guardian.

«  Painting Art  »

  1 Notation  »

Chris Goddard: "I've always enjoyed that bit you've quoted. The mental vision of an undraped Hilda...

My feeling is that the Pennine Chain is mentioned because it's so long and you wouldn't be able to get it all into a painting. Rather like mentioning the Appalachians. Have you tried Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery for the picture of Reed?"

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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1505. Orwell, George. "Young Writers." Review of New Writing and Daylight (Summer 1943), edited by John Lehmann. Spectator (30 July 1943): 110.
Orwell says of "The End of an Impulse," Reed's criticism of the Auden-Spender school of poetry, 'Henry Reed's essay contains some valuable remarks on the dangers of group literature.'



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)


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