Water-colour painter, was born at Needham Market, Suffolk, about 1815. Being intended for the legal profession, he was placed in the office of the town clerk of Ipswich; but he developed so strong an inclination for art that he was transferred to that of an architect in the same town. In 1841 he went to London, and began to draw on wood under the guidance of Josiah W. Whymper. This led in 1844 to a connection with the ‘Illustrated London News’ which lasted for the rest of his life. In 1843 he sent to the exhibition of the Royal Academy a drawing of the ‘Vestibule of the Painted Hall, Greenwich,’ and continued to exhibit annually until 1857, when he was elected an associate of the Society of Painters in Water-Colours; he did not become a full member until 1880. His first contributions to its exhibitions were drawings of Milan Cathedral and of Rosslyn Chapel, and the total number of pictures exhibited by him amounted to 212. In 1853, just before the outbreak of the Crimean war, he went to Constantinople and the Black Sea to furnish sketches of the country for the ‘Illustrated London News,’ and was the first special artist ever sent abroad by an illustrated newspaper.
The subjects of the drawings which Read exhibited during the earlier years of his associateship were derived chiefly from Belgium, and especially from the churches of Antwerp. Others were the outcome of visits to France, Germany, and North Italy, as well as to places of historic interest in England and Scotland. In 1862 he visited Spain and Portugal, and sketches of picturesque bits of architecture from all these countries appeared in the ‘Illustrated London News’ under the title of ‘Leaves from a Sketchbook,’ some of which were republished in a volume in 1875. At a later period he ventured upon landscape painting, but his drawings of ‘Cape Wrath’ and ‘The Bass Rock,’ and other views of the wild cliff scenery of our extreme northern coasts and of Ireland, did not add to his reputation, which rests mainly upon his interiors of Gothic churches and cathedrals. Among the most noteworthy of his drawings for the ‘Illustrated London News’ were a series of views of the English cathedrals and some imaginative designs in illustration of ‘The Haunted House’ and other stories in the Christmas numbers.
Read married a daughter of Robert Carruthers [q. v.], the proprietor and editor of the ‘Inverness Courier,’ and during the later years of his life resided at Parkside, Bromley, Kent. He died of paralysis at Sidmouth, Devonshire, on 6 May 1883, aged 67. His remaining works were sold by Messrs. Christie, Manson, & Woods on 29 Feb. 1884. Three drawings by him—‘The Moated Grange,’ ‘The Corridor, Brewers' Hall, Antwerp,’ and ‘Toledo Cathedral’—are in the South Kensington Museum.