David Morris Reid-Henry spent the first ten years of his life in Ceylon where his father was an entomologist employed in government service. His father, who was also a wildlife painter, taught him about the natural history of the island, drew birds he had seen on expeditions into remote parts and built an aviary in the garden of their home in Colombo. Both David and his brother Bruce were sent home to England to complete their education and after some years at Colchester Royal Grammar School, David went to Mount Radford School in Exeter.
Reid-Henry had to learn his painting technique by trial and error and by studying the work of artists such as Wilhelm Kuhnert, George Lodge and Archibald Thorburn. On their father’s occasional leaves in England, both sons took advantage of his rare presence to learn through advice how to draw birds.
Reid-Henry was sent to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst as an officer-cadet which was as much a stroke of fortune for his paintings as for his military career. Sandhurst is on the edge of the town of Camberley, home of the artist G.E. Lodge. He was welcomed into the veteran artist’s home. Whilst at Sandhurst he appears to have spent most of his free time at the Lodge household learning from George Lodge about both art and hawking.
After being posted to Egypt, he was then posted to the Military Police in Calcutta and while in India he drew and painted various pets that he kept. Postings to Singapore and Ceylon followed.
On his return to London, after the war, he renewed his friendship with Lodge and began to meet some of the leading figures in post-war ornithology. Among them was the Keeper of Birds at the Natural History Museum, J.D. Macdonald, to whom he was introduced to by his father. Macdonald was looking for an illustrator for The Birds of Sudan (1955) of which he was co-author. Reid-Henry was given the job and so his career as in illustrator was launched. Other commissions followed and he also designed postage stamps for Mauritius and Botswana.
Detail was most important to Reid-Henry and for this reason he preferred working in opaque colours, oils, gouache or tempera, rather than watercolour. He painted detail in both the background as well as the main subject of the painting.