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 Charles Samuel Keene  (1823 - 1891)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: Illustration, social cartoons, painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Charles Samuel Keene (1823–1891)

Born at Duvals Lane, Hornsey, Middlesex on 10 August 1823, son of Samuel Browne Keene (d. 1838), a solicitor of Furnivall’s Inn, London and at Ipswich, and Mary Sparrowe (1796-1881), daughter of John Sparrowe (1755-1821) of the old Ipswich family of Sparrowe's House, Buttermarket, and his wife Alicia Wilson (1754-1839).  Educated in London and at Ipswich grammar school, then in Foundation Street, Ipswich, and on leaving it in 1839, entered his father's office. 

Finding the law uncongenial and with encouragement by his mother to draw, he entered the employ of the architect William Pilkington (1758-1848) of Scotland Yard.  About 1842 apprenticed to Messrs Whymper Brothers [q.v.], the celebrated wood-engravers which was beneficial to his work, imposing a professionalism and discipline which many other illustrators lacked.  Keene must have begun to work as an independent illustrator while still at Whympers as his frontispiece to The Adventures of Dick Boldero is dated 1842 and was engraved by J. D. Cooper, a fellow apprentice with whom he collaborated.  At the end of his apprenticeship he produced designs for his first major book, The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1847).  He was employed to work up sketches by Samuel Read [q.v.] for the Illustrated London News in 1853 and prepared subjects on Sevastopol for Messrs Dickinsons' publications during the Crimean War. 

Keene began to contribute to Punch anonymously in 1851, though he signed with his initials from 1854, but he did not join the Punch ‘Table’ until 1860.  In 1864, following the death of John Leech, he succeeded as chief social cartoonist.  He contributed regularly to the magazine for the next thirty years.  He relied heavily for subjects on his friend Joseph Crawhall (1821–1896), who supplied him with albums of incidents.  His collected Punch work appeared as a volume, Our People, in 1881. 

Keene worked as an etcher from the 1870s but published few of his plates, mainly landscapes and figures, regarding the results as a mere hobby and produced very few oils, the most famous of which, a self-portrait, now in the Tate Gallery.  Through his contact with the etcher Edwin Edwards [q.v.], his etched work reached a wider circle.  Mrs Ruth Edwards printed his plates and entered his works for the Paris Exhibition in 1889, where they won a gold medal but John Ruskin (1819-1900) criticized his failure to tackle grander subjects than his ‘cabbies, servant girls, soldiers or drunks’. 

From early manhood Keene lived as an eccentric bachelor in various London dilapidated rooms and lodgings often separated from a permanent studio.  He moved from an attic above the Strand to Clipstone Street, then to 55 Baker Street, 11 Queen's Road, west Chelsea, and King's Road, Chelsea.  In each of these addresses he surrounded himself with a jumble of artistic props, books, flints, and memorabilia, cooking meat to a cinder on an open fire.  A tall, gangling figure in untidy clothes, Keene took a cottage at Witley, Surrey, for some years, but his spiritual home was undoubtedly Suffolk, where he spent long holidays in rented rooms and has a close friendship with the poet Edward FitzGerald at Woodbridge, Suffolk.  Keene's excessive smoking and poor diet led to the gradual onset of heart disease and he died at his home, 112 Hammersmith Road, London, on 4 January 1891 and buried in Hammersmith cemetery, attended by all his Punch friends.  He left over £30,000. (Simon Houfe. The Works of Charles Samuel Keene. 1995).

Information provided by Tony Copsey, author and researcher of artists in Suffolk County, England

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