Establishing himself as a wide-ranging artist and illustrator during the 1890s, Edward Handley-Read produced pioneering images of the front line during the First World War. Edward Handley-Read was born Edward Read in London. He was possibly the son of Henry Read, and his wife, Emma (née Birch), who, in 1881, were keeping an upmarket lodging house at 65 Sloane Street. He was educated at Kensington Grammar School and first studied art at the National Art Training School (more popularly known as the South Kensington Schools). He then progressed to Westminster School of Art, where he worked under Frederick Brown, and the Royal Academy Schools, where he won the Creswick Prize for landscape painting. He exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours and the Royal Society of British Artists, becoming a member of the last in 1895.
He also contributed illustrations to various books and magazines, including The Graphic and The Illustrated London News. During the 1890s, he gave as his addresses the Ranger’s Lodge, Hyde Park (1890-94), and 1 Camden Studios, Camden Street (1893-98). By 1911, he was working at 8 Camden Studios.
In 1902, Edward Read married Sarah Elizabeth Clarke in Edmonton. However, she died a few years later and, in 1911, he married Eva Handley in Kingston upon Thames. She was a pioneering woman dental surgeon and suffragette, and in deference to her he changed his surname by deed poll to Handley-Read. They would have a son and a daughter.
During the First World War, Edward Handley-Read served in the Machine Gun Corps, first as a Sergeant-Instructor and later a Captain. In that capacity, he organised an army studio for diagrams and models for instruction on military matters, instructed on camouflage, and invented published sets of coloured diagrams for the teaching of machine-guns. He also produced several hundred watercolours of life on the front line, some of which were exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in a series of solo shows entitled ‘The British Firing-Line’, the first of which took place in May 1916. In the following year, the gallery published a portfolio of his colour engravings under the same title, which had a foreword by Hilaire Belloc. By 1916, the Handley-Reads had established a home in Steyning, Sussex, where other members of Eva’s family were living. It was there in that year that their son, Charles, was born. He would become a noted architectural writer and collector, with a pioneering interest in William Burges, and an inspiring teacher, at Bryanston.
After the war, Edward Handley-Read produced a variety of figure subjects and landscapes. Living at Chantry Lodge, Chantry Lane, Storrington, Sussex, until at least 1932, he died at the House of Steps, 41 High Street, Salisbury, on 6 December 1935.
His work is represented in the collections of the Imperial War Museums.