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Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

6 of 70 portraits of Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt, by Charles Samuel Keene, 1860s -NPG 1117 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt

by Charles Samuel Keene
Pen and sepia ink drawing on laid paper,, 1860s
7 in. x 4 1/2 in. (178 mm x 114 mm)
NPG 1117


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Inscriptionback to top

Bottom centre, Charles Keene studio stamp: ‘CK’.

This portraitback to top

Charles Keene started working for Punch in 1852 and drew for it until the year of his death; Millais – a ‘guest artist’ on the magazine – contributed caricatures in 1863 and 1865. In the 1860s they both worked as illustrators for Once a Week, Good Words and the Cornhill Magazine. [1]

At the same time they were part of the broad mix at actor-manager Arthur Lewis’s parties, as described by William Blake Richmond:

In Jermyn Street, over a fruit-shop, was a small suite of chambers, inhabited by Arthur Lewis, a man friendly to the Arts […] whose weekly hospitality was proverbial […] On occasions when they met, celebrities jostled one another in friendly proximity. Leighton, Charles Keene, little Freddy Walker, Sandys, Holman Hunt, Millais, Anthony Trollope, Poole the fashionable tailor, together with a sprinkling of lords rather proud of being admitted into such intellectual society. [2]

It was on one of these Saturday evenings, 30 October 1864 (Keene was present), that Millais arrived in great distress with the news of John Leech’s death. [3]

Though they later diverged professionally they remained friends. Keene gave Millais one of his old pipes mounted in silver (they were both heavy smokers), and when he was ill in the 1890s the painter sent him presents of game. [4] The sketch of Millais, NPG 1117, could have been done at any time during the forty-year acquaintanceship, though most likely in the 1860s, when they were colleagues on the illustrateds and Millais not yet very bald.

Keene was an artist’s artist. Joseph Pennell – who once owned this drawing – reported that Whistler considered Keene ‘the greatest artist since Hogarth’; Sickert too thought he ranked ‘with the great of all time’. [5] The collector Lionel Lindsay admired Keene’s economy of line, beautifully exemplified in NPG 1117; he suggested it came from a ‘habit of fixing the shape in his mind before he came to its exposition on paper’. [6] Keene developed special techniques; most of the drawings were done in brown ink, as here, ‘often diluted and sometimes mixed with ordinary writing ink “of a violaceous shade”’, according to Derek Hudson: ‘he would do much of his sketching direct with a pen, carrying a bottle of ink about with him tied to a waistcoat button’. [7] G.S. Layard observed that ‘Keene worked largely with small pieces of pointed wood lashed on to pen holders manufactured in lieu of pens by himself.’ [8] And R.G. Price in his history of Punch wrote that Keene ‘experimented ceaselessly, mixing inks of various shades of brown, trying different kinds of pens, even dipping splintered pen holders in the ink’. [9]

The drawing was offered to the National Portrait Gallery by Joseph Pennell, printmaker and Whistler’s biographer. He wrote to the director:

In preparing my introduction to Keene’s Work, I came across a certain number of the artists original unpublished studies – among them there is a drawing by Keene of Millais and another of Tom Morton, the illustrator. They are not only it seems to me of a certain historical value, but also I am sure of great artistic worth, and if you and your Directors would care for them I should be glad to hand them over to the National Portrait Gallery where they would be of more use than in my dusty portfolios. [10]

Acceptance of this drawing in 1898 was an early case of the Trustees’ waiving the NPG’s Ten-Year Rule.

According to Hudson the drawing was adapted by Keene for use in a Punch cartoon: ‘True to [Keene’s] principles of never wasting anything, he used this study [NPG 1117] for the figure of an artist in Punch, completely altering the face and adding a “silly ass” moustache.’ [11]

For another drawing of Millais by Charles Keene, also undated, showing him crouched painting at an easel out of doors, see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, c.1865’. [12]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) For details of the years they overlapped on each magazine, see Houfe 1996, entries on C. Keene and J.E. Millais.
2) Stirling 1926, pp.184–5. For Frederick Walker’s drawing of one of these evenings, see ‘All known portraits, By other artists, 1866’.
3) Ormond 1969, p.160.
4) ‘In Keene’s last illness Millais sent him partridges and pheasants – “dear old fellow”, wrote Keene, and in another letter, “How kind it was of Sir John Millais to think of me – a grand fellow!”’ Hudson 1947, p.46.
5) Pennell & Pennell 1908, vol.1, p.231; and Sickert 2000, pp.508, 150: ‘if we allow ourselves to ask who was the greatest English artist of the nineteenth century it would be difficult even to find a candidate to set against Charles Keene […] he ranks with the great of all time.’
6) Hudson 1947, p.30.
7) Hudson 1947, p.32.
8) Layard 1892; cited Hudson 1947, p.32.
9) Price 1957, p.76.
10) Letter from J. Pennell to L. Cust, 1 Jan. 1898, NPG RP 1117.
11) Hudson 1947, p.47. Tracing this cartoon would allow a better dating of NPG 1117.
12) Coll. Michael Broadbent. See Houfe 1995, repr. p.87.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length, seated at easel, with palette and brushes, head twisted to viewer’s right, smoking, right foot resting on easel.

Conservationback to top

Conserved 1898; 1982.

Provenanceback to top

Joseph Pennell, by whom presented to the Gallery, February 1898.

Exhibitionsback to top

Charles Keene: ‘The Artists’ Artist’ 1823–1891, Christie’s, London, 1991 (55).

Reproductionsback to top

Hudson 1947, facing p.45.

View all known portraits for Charles Samuel Keene

View all known portraits for Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt