Detail from The Canal, Amsterdam, 1889, James McNeill Whistler, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow


Charles Samuel Keene

Nationality: English
Date of birth: 1823.08.10
Place of birth: Hornsey
Date of death: 1891.01.04
Place of death: Hammersmith, London
Category: etcher


Charles Samuel Keene was an etcher, cartoonist and illustrator.


Keene, who began his career apprenticed to an architect and then a wood-engraver, studied at the Clipstone Street Art Society. He worked as an illustrator for the Illustrated London News, Once A Week and Punch, producing humorous drawings, satirising contemporary social life. Pennell described Keene as 'the greatest English artist since Hogarth'.

Keene also illustrated books, for example, F. C. Burnand's Tracks for Tourists (1864) and Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth. He was a member of the Langham Sketching Club and in 1881 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. Like Whistler, he was also a member of The Arts Club from 1863 until 1890. In 1891 an exhibition of 251 of his works were exhibited at the Fine Art Society. His Self-Portrait was bought by the Chantrey Bequest in 1922.

Whistler's closely observed Thames Set, showing life at the docks of Rotherhithe and Wapping, are comparable to the urban drawings of Keene. Whistler met Keene after 1859 through their membership in the Junior Etching Club. In 1864 Whistler recommended Keene as an illustrator to C. A. Howell (GUW #02788). In 1867 Keene helped Whistler pay for the funeral expenses of James Reeves Traer, a partner in F. S. Haden's medical practice whom Whistler felt had been badly treated (#05854). In the Whistler v. Ruskin trial in 1878 Whistler proposed to subpoena Keene but Keene declined to give evidence.

However, Keene was a member of the Society of British Artists when Whistler was President from 1886, and he was one of those who resigned in support of Whistler in 1888. In 1889 he was among those proposed invitees to a dinner organised by W. C. Symons to congratulate Whistler on becoming an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Munich, a dinner which was to be held at the Criterion in Piccadilly on 1 May (GUW #05636).

In July 1891, following the death of Keene, G. S. Layard, Keene's biographer, wrote to Whistler, asking for his recollections of the artist, knowing the 'high appreciation' Keene had for Whistler (GUW #02492).


Layard, G. S., The Life and Letters of Charles Samuel Keene, London, 1892; Records of The Arts Club, London; Pennell, Joseph, The Work of Charles Keene, London, 1897; Pennell, J., Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen, London, n.d.; Wood, Christopher, Dictionary of Victorian Painters, Woodbridge, 1971; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1980; Johnson, Lewis, 'Charles Keene', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy.