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New Approaches to Herbert Read

Call for participants for a one-day workshop for PhD and Early Career Researchers on the work of Herbert Read.


University of Leeds

Conference dates
Wednesday 2 November 2022, 10:00am - 6:00pm, followed by drinks reception from 6:00 - 7:30pm

Conference outline

Modernist poet, visionary art historian, loyal friend, knighted anarchist: Herbert Read (1893-1968) is understood as a major figure in twentieth-century British culture. However, his eclectic range of interests spanning a range artistic media, political creeds, and geographical zones present significant difficulties to cultural historians assessing his work and influence today.

It is a century since Read announced his entrance onto the scene of modernist literary activity with Naked Warriors, published in 1919. From 1922 he began contributing to The Criterion, and soon after prepared the writings of T.E. Hulme for posthumous publication as Speculations in 1924. Through the inter-war years, Read would become one of the foremost apologists for avant-garde art, whether abstract or surrealist, and as a founding member of the Institute for Contemporary Arts in 1948 Read maintained his influence over a postwar generation of sculptors he labelled the ‘geometrists of fear’, later publishing The Art of Sculpture from his A.W. Mellon Lectures. He pioneered the use of psychoanalytical theory, and wrote extensively on philosophical and political subjects, helping to introduce existentialist philosophy to British readers. Towards the end of his life, he returned to his native Yorkshire, to Stonegrave in the North Riding where he died in 1968.

This one-day workshop will mark the beginning of the Henry Moore Institute’s 2022-23 research season dedicated to Herbert Read. Building on the foundation of scholarship that reassessed Read in the 1990s, it asks how his legacy has shifted into the twenty-first century. How might Read’s life and work be brought to bear on the challenges we face in 2022, both within the discipline of cultural history and beyond, namely climate change, political and economic polarisation, and decoloniality? The timeliness of this fresh attention on Read is signalled by the recent acquisition of the Benedict Read Bequest at the University of Leeds. Within this collection of painting, drawing, and sculpture are numerous works acquired by Herbert Read before being passed his son, Ben. It joins the already rich collection of works in the Sadler Collection that were formative for Read while he studied in Leeds and the extensive archive of Read’s papers and his library, held by the University.

Structured around two roundtables with 6-8 speakers each, organisers invite proposals for short, 5-10 minute papers intended to stimulate discussion and introduce new research or creative interpretation of Read’s work. We welcome brief, impactful papers that question assumptions around Read and his times, and forge urgent new lines of academic enquiry. The programme will be broad and interdisciplinary in its approach, reflecting Read’s literary, art historical, political, and philosophical interests. Papers may explore material or individuals adjacent to Read – for instance, Barbara Hepworth, Pyotr Kropotkin, William Wordsworth, or other artists and writers addressed in his work. We encourage creative interventions by contemporary artists responding to Read’s oeuvre and especially invite applicants to examine the Herbert Read Archive or the Herbert Read Library at the University of Leeds to inform their participation in the event. Travel bursaries for this purpose will be made available. Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • New research into any area of Read’s writing
  • Read as curator, editor, or translator
  • New perspectives on Read’s influence over modern and contemporary sculpture
  • Read and the nineteenth century
  • Read and the Anthropocene
  • Read and the ethnographic artifact
  • Read’s anarchism and his political context
  • Read’s position within the New Modernist Studies
  • Read at home: the North Riding, Leeds, Hampstead, Stonegrave
  • Read’s role at the ICA
  • Word, image, ekphrasis
  • Read beyond the canon
  • Read and imperialism
  • Read and popular culture
  • Read and landscape



This symposium is open to researchers, practitioners and museum or archival professionals from all backgrounds and disciplines. Please send your proposals by 5pm Wednesday 24 August 2022.

  • Abstracts must not exceed 200 words
  • Please include a bio that does not exceed 100 words
  • Invitations to participate will be sent via email
  • If you require access to the Herbert Read Archive and would like to be considered for a travel bursary, please detail your estimated travel costs and itinerary with your submission.

Proposals should be emailed to with the email subject ‘Herbert Read Abstract’.