Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Great Punch Artist: Charles Keene

“Character, for him, had always beauty. He found it in what are usually called vulgar types, the coster and the cabby, the policeman and the waiter, the slavey, and above all, the drunken man – just as Rembrandt found it in the Jews of Amsterdam, Velasquez in the dwarfs of the Spanish court, Hals in the jester and the fishwife.” – England’s Three Greatest Artist-Humorists since Hogarth, Brush and Pencil, Vol. 14, No. 4, July 1904.

The Graphic 1891
Charles Samuel Keene (1823-1891) was born at Hornsey, London and worked in the office of his father, a solicitor at Furnivall’s Inn. He was mostly self-taught except for training received at a Life School in Clipstone Street, Fitzroy Square.

He abandoned law in 1840 for an apprenticeship with Whymper Bros., engravers of woodblock illustrated books, where he did the illustrations for ‘Robinson Crusoe’. In 1851 he had his first signed drawing in Punch and contributed to The Illustrated London News and Once a Week. Keene began as an imitator of John Leech. He kept a studio on Baker Street, upstairs from the premises kept by celebrity photographers’ Elliott & Fry.

George du Maurier recalled the bohemian life the Punch artists led in one of his lectures on comic art.  “With all my admiration for Leech it was at the feet of Charles Keene that I found myself sitting. We were much together in those days, talking endless shop, taking long walks, riding side-by-side on the knife-boards of omnibuses, dining at cheap restaurants, making music at each other’s studios.”

Charles Keene did not write his own jokes; they were supplied by Joseph Crawhall the elder and Archibald Chasemore (“Our Lunatic Contributor” of Judy). He won a Gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1889. His last drawing for Punch, ‘Arry of the Boulevards’, appeared on August 15, 1890. Keene never married, and died at his sister’s residence in Hammersmith on January 10, 1891.

Last Punch drawing, August 15, 1890

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