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Charles Samuel Keene

Charles Samuel Keene, by Alfred William Cooper, 1866 -NPG 2771 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Charles Samuel Keene

by Alfred William Cooper
Pencil on cream wove paper, 1866
5 3/4 in. x 3 1/2 in. (145 mm x 88 mm)
NPG 2771

Inscriptionback to top

Signed, dated and inscr. lower right corner: ‘CK / AWC. Xmas. 1866’.

This portraitback to top

The initials ‘A.W.C.’ refer to Alfred William Cooper. He was a son of the sporting artist Abraham Cooper RA and himself a painter of domestic and historical genre, and a Royal Academy exhibitor between 1850 and 1901. He and Keene were close friends. They served in the Volunteer Rifle Corps (no.5 Kensington Company, 2nd Middlesex) and according to Keene’s biographer Layard shared a tent in the regimental camp at Wimbledon between 1867 and 1871. [1]

Cooper’s drawing of Keene giving a reading in Tudor dress is dated ‘Xmas 1866’. It can be connected with (Myles) Birket Foster and the fancy dress parties and amateur theatricals he organized at The Hill at Witley in Surrey. [2] From 1865 to 1876 Foster persuaded Keene to rent Tighbourne Cottage, a house in the neighbourhood. Keene, metropolitan born and bred, enjoyed it as a ‘pleasant retreat to fly to for a day or two from the row and turmoil of London’ and was amused by the ‘small aristocracy of artists’ who congregated at Witley. [3] He and Cooper were very much part of the games. Writing on New Year’s Day 1869 he describes the rumbustious celebrations rolling into days and involving dancing, eating, singing, musical performances and theatricals: ‘We had lots of music at the Hill … Cooper was very great … he took up the violin and played very slowly and laboriously and out of tune … On the Saturday we all dressed in costume, down to the children, and so to dinner and then dancing.’ [4] Later, after the lease on Tighbourne Cottage expired, Keene continued to spend Christmas with the Fosters, while Alfred Cooper moved into the family by marrying one of the Foster cousins in 1870. [5]

Keene’s costume of doublet and hose in NPG 2771 is very like one he wears at a similar, undated ‘Tudor’ event at The Hill, captured by an unknown photographer; see ‘All known portraits, Photographs, c.1864–6’. [6]

The drawing was offered as a gift (with another drawing, Sir David Wilkie by William Holman Hunt, NPG 2770) by the Slade-trained painter and illustrator Thomas Esmond Lowinsky in June 1935. Lowinsky gave it as a self-portrait by Keene, but research in 1936 established the artist was Keene’s friend Alfred Cooper. [7]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Layard 1892, p.70. For other refs to Cooper see pp.138, 264.
2) A large red-brick half-timbered house built in 1863–6. The interior was decorated by the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. In 1865 there was a plan that Keene should paint a ‘tempera’ medieval subject for a summer house there; see Reynolds 1984, p.107.
3) Reynolds 1984, p.120.
4) Layard 1892, pp.137–8.
5) See Reynolds 1984, p.164, fig.97.
6) The hats are different. The background of other photographs of the Tudor event suggest it was not held at Christmas.
7) See NPG RP 2770–71 and NPG Report of the Trustees 1935–6.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length, standing (feet partly cut off), right hand raised, eyes lowered on book in left hand, wearing fancy dress costume.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1984.

Provenanceback to top

Given by Thomas E. Lowinsky, June 1935.

View all known portraits for Charles Samuel Keene