The Artist JAMES EADIE-REID (1868-1928)

James Eadie-Reid was born December 1868 at Forfar (Angus), to James S. Reid, a calandar manager, and Helen Eadie; there were to be three further children, Grace, Andrew and Malcolm, but their mother Helen appears to have died by 1881. James began his artistic career c.1884 as a commercial artist and illustrator at Dundee; in January 1886 he left to further his art training at Edinburgh, exhibiting at the Royal Scottish Academy summer shows of 1887 and 1888, whilst continuing to cultivate a reputation as a decorative artist.

We next hear of him in London, wherein July 1890, he joined C. R. Ashbee’s quintessential Arts and Crafts Guild &School of Handicraft,then still based in Whitechapel, i.e. before the remove of the entire Guild, craftsmen and families, to the rural Gloucestershire idyll of Chipping Campdenin 1902. He is recorded as having undertaken the decoration of Guild furniture (usually in coloured gesso), as well as acting as an illustrator of Guild pamphlets; whatever else one may say about Eadie-Reid’s art, he can at least claim to have had impeccable Arts and Crafts credentials. He had also married, in 1890, Maryon Maxwell; they had only the one daughter, also Maryon, born in 1891. Reid resigned from the Guild in October 1891; the free-thinking spirit of the Guildsmenmay ultimately have proven uncongenial to Eadie-Reid who espoused a strong Christian-Socialist streak for the remainder of his career.

A large number of sources next place Reid either as an assistant or pupil of (Sir) William Blake Richmond(1842-1921).The exact details of their arrangement are hard to come by, but Richmond had been a keen supporter of Ashbee’s Guild, so Reid’s move was perhaps quite natural.The association between the two artists is undoubtedly real;in at least one location, the ‘pupil’ continues a scheme begun by the master,and it was Richmond who,c.1898, recommended Reid for the fresco commission at St. Columba’s Southwick. At the time, Richmond was also engaged on the controversial, and protracted,scheme of mosaic decorationand stained glass (begun 1891, but not completed until 1904)forthe choir of St. Paul’s cathedral, andthe influence of this particular scheme is readily apparentin Reid’swork ofthis time.Reid seems also to have developed some sort of a reputation as a connoisseur; his family place him in Assisiin 1894, and a press notice of 1897 mentions him as an ‘expert’ on Italian ‘primitives’ in the same breath as Sir Edward Poynter, then president of the Royal Academy.

The desire to progress as a religious artist finally took Eadie-Reid to Paris in the years before the First World War, where he imbibed the ‘modern’ academicism then favoured by French Catholicism,9and apparently gained some major prizes for his work; stained glass by Reid is recorded as still extant in at least one Parisian church. A considerable body of work was sent back to England from his Paris studio around this time,11includingcartoons for stained glass (there is no evidencethat Reidactuallyworked on the windows himself), andfull-size canvasses for fixing and working up in situby the artist.And like many religious artists of the period, he travelled to Palestine, in order to soak up the ‘authentic’ Biblical atmosphere. The results of theseexperiences on his art were quite profound; his drawing improved tremendously, as did his ability to work on a large scale, but the effect is too often fatally underminedby a cloying sentimentality thought alien to the British religious temperament; perhaps it is this which accounts for his general neglect by art-historians.Nevertheless, during the first decades of the twentieth century, Eadie-Reid became theprincipal purveyor of a curiously hybrid Anglo-Frenchreligious art to Anglicans of an Anglo-Catholic and/or Christian-Socialist persuasion, and the very ubiquity of his workmakes it all the harder to understand the obscurity into which he has fallen. Admittedly, he did too much, and the quality can be veryvariable, even in the same building and over relatively short stretches of time (his earlier Arts and crafts inspired work is much to be preferred as the more consistent). However, at his best, he could create some remarkably beautiful and grand effects, a quality too often lacking inthe ecclesiastical arts of the period. He died of cancer on 9 May 1928, at his studio and home in Frensham, Surrey.

The Southwick commission appears to have been the occasion for Eadie-Reid’s introduction to the North-East, and as at Cheltenham (where he was a visiting art-master at the colleges), he subsequently executed a considerable amount of work in the neighbourhood. He became well-known in Newcastle’s art circlesand a regular exhibitor at the region’s galleries, and wasparticularly associated with the ecclesiastical wood-carving business of Ralph Hedley & Co.(Newcastle), and The Gateshead Stained Glass Company(formerly the stained glass department of the Sowerby (Ellison) glassworks). For the former, he collaborated (between c.1900-1910) on a number of impressiveensembles, incorporating murals, painted altar or reredos panels (executed by the artist) and figured scenes, the latter designed by Reid but carved by the Hedley workshop. Good examples can still be seen at St. Chad’s, Bensham (Gateshead); St. Oswald’s, West Hartlepool, and St. Gabriel’s, Heaton (Newcastle). St. Columba’s Southwick, remains however, Eadie-Reid’s single most completescheme of mural decoration anywhere in Britain.

It is not known how his association with The Gateshead Stained Glass Company came about, but from c.1900 till the close of the concern in 1926, Reid was both principal share-holder and their chief artist. The majority of his stained glass was subsequently executed by the Gateshead firm, e.g. the east and north walks of the cloister, and the First War memorial, at Worcester cathedral.14Reid’s windows of c.1900-1910 can beremarkably impressive, e.g. the four-light north aisle window (1905) at St. Giles, Wrexham(Denbighshire), or the four-light south transept window (1904) at St. Mary, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham (Glos.). Thesebear comparison with contemporary worksby Gerald Moira and Leonard Walker,15in their concentration of the painted detail on the flesh-painting, and the use of rich, thick streaky colours and opalescent glasses, often in combination with platings. His French training began later to undermine the purely architectonic qualities of his stained glass, and the quality fell off, although not all of his later windows should be dismissed as failures, e.g. the splendid five-light east window (1923) at Holy Sepulchre, Ashington (Northumberland).