This striking self-portrait by Trelawney Dayrell Reed is undeniably unique.
Looking out directly at the viewer, Reed has depicted himself wearing a large dramatic Venetian cape dwarfing his body and taking over the lower half of the picture. The figure is framed with an unusual background of graphic geometric shapes and drapes of fabric that seem to hang off nothing in mid-air. Reed’s face and hair is created with, occasionally angular, sweeps of dynamic colour. His use of green shadow employs colour theory to work with the range of flesh tones to create a balanced and coherent palette.
Trelawney Dayrell Reed was a historian whose published titles include The Battle for Britain in the Fifth Century. An essay in Dark Age history (1944) and The Rise of Wessex. A further essay in Dark Age history (1947), and worked as a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Farnham, sister to the first Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford. Reed was also the author of a book about the alehouse game ‘Shove Ha’penny’, an eccentric volume threaded with peppery asides about urban values (‘London is not the centre of Dorset’) and the diverse forces considered to be undermining rural life (‘cheap press headline, Sunday newspapers and semitic Cinema captions hot from Hollywood’).
Artist John Craxton at the age of 17 was picking up antiques and being picked up by antiques dealers. Lodging largely in Dorset with an uncle and aunt, painters both, he scandalised his guardians (but not his parents) by taking up with Trelawney Dayrell Reed – painter, farmer and ousted curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum at Farnham.
When asked whether he had pigs on his farm, this Wildean wit notoriously replied: “No. The boys have the pigs. I have the boys.” Hence his Pitt Rivers sacking. The darkly bearded and often becloaked giant looked like a pantomime villain and relished the risks of playing such a part to the full.
How much of it was a comic act and how much the real thing was never clear – but Trelawney’s besotted letters to John suggest that, beneath the banter and bluster, he was really a guide to the antiquarian and archaeological fields they both loved.
Reed has been described in both Michael Holroyd’s ‘Augustus John’, and Nicolette Macnamara’s Two Flamboyant Fathers’ regarding his relationship with the Welsh painter Augustus John. He also features in John’s own autobiography and was immortalised in a portrait painted by John in 1929. Reed, one of Augustus John’s more eccentric friends, was living with him at Alderney Manor in 1913, the only year in which he exhibited with the New English Arts Club. Reed was better known as an archaeologist and poet than as a painter
Reed moved down to Dorset in the early 1920s, first going to the county as a London acquaintance of Augustus John who was at the time living near Poole. John recalled that Reed had ‘looked in’ for tea, stayed several years and eventually set up his own small holding. His mother and unmarried sister joined him here. His angular character became notorious in Dorset for mounting his own local stand against the modern encroachment of low-flying aircraft that were accustomed to performing noisy turns over his farmhouse during the Bournemouth Air Races.
Reed discharged his shotgun at a plane in 1927 at Ensbury Park Airfield in Bournemouth. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He was supported in court by his friend Augustus John. The pilot said that he had flown about fifty feet above the farmhouse at about 60 to 80 m.p.h. The shot missed him by only three feet. Forty-eight holes were found in the left wing. The defence replied that only seventy of the two hundred and eighteen pellets hit the plane. In the magistrates court Reed said that low flying affected his mother’s nerves, disturbed his cattle, and some planes flew so low they took the heads off his red hot pokers. He was found not guilty and discharged.