Preferring pencil to pen and ink, E T Reed developed into a superb draughtsman, using his confident line to express a rich imagination. Known equally for his political caricatures and his Punch series, ‘Prehistoric Peeps’, his range of subject and allusion was astonishingly wide. Edward Tennyson Reed was born in Greenwich, London, on 27 March 1860. He was the third of five children, and only son, of Sir Edward James Reed, Chief Constructor of the Royal Navy and later a Liberal Member of Parliament, and his wife, Rosetta (née Barnaby). Rosetta was the sister of Sir Nathaniel Barnaby, who would succeed Sir Edward Reed as Chief Constructor. The main London home of the Reed family was 74 Gloucester Road, South Kensington, while, in 1876, Sir Edward acquired Hextable House, near Sutton at Hone, in Kent.
E T Reed was educated at Harrow School until 1877.
Two years later, in 1879, he travelled with his father to Egypt and the Far East. On his return, he began to read for the Bar, but soon gave that up in favour of art. He received encouragement from Edward Burne-Jones and studied for 18 months under P H Calderon. However, he failed to get a place at the Royal Academy Schools, or to establish himself as a portrait painter, and so began work as a cartoonist and illustrator. By then, he had already illustrated his father’s book, Japan: Its History, Religion and Traditions (1880).
Reed made his first contributions to Punch in June 1889, and was elected to the staff in the following year by its editor, F C Burnand. He soon became an established part of the periodical, introducing his ‘Prehistoric Peeps’ series into its Almanack in 1893, and following Harry Furniss as parliamentary caricaturist in 1894, a post he held till 1912. (As the son of an MP, he had long been familiar with the House of Commons.) Without obscuring his uncanny ability to capture individual likenesses, he restored to Punch the spirit of grotesque. Yet, despite this early association with one particular publication, he contributed some of his best political and legal cartoons elsewhere, including The Sketch (from 1893) and The Bystander (to which he moved in 1912). His work was exhibited at societies and dealers in London, including the Leicester Galleries and Fine Art Society, and also in the provinces. He was also a talented lecturer.
In 1891, Reed had married Beatrice Bullen, and they had a son and a daughter. By 1900, the family was living at 17 Fitz-George Avenue, Fulham.
E T Reed died in London on 12 July 1933.
His work is represented in the collections of the V&A.
Further reading: E V Knox, rev Jane Newton, ‘Reed, Edward Tennyson (1860-1933)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 46, page 302; Shane Leslie (ed), Edward Tennyson Reed, 1860-1933, London: Heinemann, 1957