Read, Jane

Date and place of birth:
c 1773, London
Date and place of death:
16 January 1857, London
(fl) c 1790s-1815
Known places of work:
Known techniques:
Painted on glass
Known materials:
Oil paint blackened
Not recorded


Described by McKechnie as “, one of the finest of oil painters of profiles on glass”, Jane Read had a long and successful artistic career, inspired perhaps by the example of her mother, Isabella Beetham. While her early pieces clearly show the influence of her mother, she developed a unique, polished style influenced by her work as a miniaturist.

Jane Read (nee. Beetham) spent most of her life in London. She was linked romantically to the painter John Opie but eventually married a lawyer, John Read around 1797. From John’s death in 1847 Jane and their child Cordelia lived alone in Stamford Street, London. They appear to have been regarded as rather eccentric; known as the “old sisters”, newspaper articles suggested their house was haunted. However, Jane’s artistic career in her youth was widely celebrated. She first exhibited portrait miniatures at the Royal Academy in 1794. McKechnie records almost 20 Royal Academy exhibitions from Jane Read – the most of any artist in ‘British Silhouette Artists’. She began painting silhouettes commercially with her mother in the late 1790s, and features on Mrs Beetham’s trade label number six. Most of her independent work appears to have been completed between the late 1790s and 1815. One independent trade label is known. Early pieces are framed in papier-mache and pearwood, later works have the addition of ormolu or brass rings.

Jane Read’s early silhouette work rather resembles that of her mother, particularly in its depiction of clothing. However, she came to develop a unique, accomplished style of painting on glass which is easily identifiable today. Her experience as a miniaturist can be seen in sitters’ clearly moulded features and her sharp awareness of composition. Sitters are typically placed against a landscaped background, with dark foliage helping to outline the face. Hair is painted in thick, dark strokes over smaller, thinner strokes and sitters' faces are painted on a fingerprinted base, with sections wiped out to depict bone structure. Features are generally finely moulded by hatching and added stippling. Again, clothing is shown by hatching over a fingerprinted base with sections wiped away. Jane Read appears to have used two sizes of brush and two sizes of needle to enable precise highlighting. Today her work is very well regarded, particularly as she worked in the rarer medium of glass.1562

Additional research about Jane Read:

Source: McKechnie (Author of, British Silhouette Artists and their Work 1760-1860)

Read, Jane (McKechnie Section 6)