Denis William Reed, RWA (1917-1979) was a Bristol-born painter in oil and watercolour of landscapes, urban scenes, figure subjects and still life.
Reed studied art at the West of England College of Art 1934-38 and then at the Royal College of Art from 1938 taking up his studies in company with his friend the painter Richard MacDonald. It was in 1938 that he also began a long friendship with John Elwyn, who also studied at the Royal College, and at that time they shared accommodation in Kensington. Their time at the RCA was interrupted by the outbreak of war. In the case of Denis Reed, he undertook farm work in Wiltshire and in Warwickshire before joining the Royal Engineers, Ordnance Survey section, who appreciated the skills offered by trained artists. Reed served in the RE in Yorkshire, in Ruabon in North Wales (at Wynnstay Hall in 1943) and subsequently at Waddon in Croydon (1944). He was later appointed Art Advisor to the London District of Army Education. During his time at Ruabon he became friendly with Carel Weight and William Scott, and in company with other soldier artists at Ruabon, they had the freedom to paint on a Sunday. Weight was the prime mover in organising an exhibition of their pictures from Ruabon which were shown at the Charlotte Street Centre in the West End, a gallery opened by the Artists International Association. This exhibition titled ‘After Duty’ ran during November and December 1943.
In January 1946 Denis Reed re-enrolled at the Royal College of Art and he gained his diploma in 1947/48. He was regarded as a highly gifted painter. Reed renewed his friendship with John Elwyn, who had rejoined the RCA in September 1946. They painted together in Kensington Gardens, along the Thames, and in other areas of London. At this time they were living in Earls Court. Most of Denis Reed’s work post-1950 was of the city, coast and people of Bristol and the surrounding area. In the mid-1950s Reed secured a senior teaching post at Loughborough College of Art, but shortly after taking up his appointment he suffered from ill health and he returned to Bristol. For nearly twenty years he lived in the Clifton area of the city.
Denis Reed was not a regular exhibitor of his work, in part because of recurrent periods of ill health. He showed a few times at the Royal Academy from 1947 until 1973, at the New English Art Club four times from 1944 until 1972, at the Royal Society of British Artists, and with the Royal West of England Academy, of which he was elected a full member. In 1992 the RWA held a memorial show of Reed’s paintings. His work from the early to mid-1940s was signed ‘William Reed’, if signed at all. Post circa 1947 the artist preferred to be known as Denis Reed and exhibited under that name. Reed was not a prolific painter and much of his work remained with his family until 1989 when the paintings and drawings entered a private collection.