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Charles Samuel Keene

Charles Samuel Keene, by Walton Corbould, circa 1880s (posthumous?) -NPG 1337 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Charles Samuel Keene

by Walton Corbould
Watercolour and bodycolour, with traces of pencil, on wove paper, circa 1880s (posthumous?)
23 3/4 in. x 14 3/4 in. (603 mm x 375 mm)
NPG 1337

Inscriptionback to top

Signed in watercolour lower left-hand corner: ‘Walton Corbould’.

This portraitback to top

Walton Corbould was Keene’s nephew, the son of his eldest sister Mary and the artist Alfred Hitchens Corbould (fl. 1844–64). He was not formally trained but worked as an illustrator for the News of the World ‘and similar papers’. [1] A note on file for NPG 1337 indicates ‘[Corbould] did the drawing of the head from a photograph & from long personal & intimate acquaintance with his uncle. The rest of the figure was done from clothes usually worn by Keene & the room was part of Keene’s studio.’ [2]

The sitter is not instantly recognizable in this large and detailed drawing. This is partly because Keene’s looks changed with ill-health; the ‘jet black curly hair’ turned grey; and he shunned publicity, so that there are relatively few images of him in later life. For the photographs Corbould might have used here, see ‘All known portraits’, especially the 1882 photograph (coll. S.G.A. Glasson), and the print of an aged-looking Keene in a garden (Getty Images, 5070085). NPG 1337, essentially a reproductive image, is almost certainly posthumous.

Keene’s biographer Layard described his peculiar, informal sense of dress:

He rarely wore a black coat, his clothes (of which he always had several suits) being made of Cheviot [tweed] or other coloured material. I don’t think I ever saw him in a silk hat – always a ‘billycock’ or ‘wide-awake’. Very particular about his boots, which he had from a first-rate West-end maker. He often carried a bag slung over his shoulders with a leathern strap. He never carried an umbrella however inclement the weather might be, often getting wet through two or three times a day. [3]

See the spats, the long tweed coat hung at right and the shepherd’s crook walking stick in NPG 1337.

The portrait was offered as a gift to the National Portrait Gallery by Thomas G. Bain of 14 Charles Street, Haymarket, London, in January 1903, twelve years after Keene’s death.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Unsigned note marked ‘personal information’, 13 Aug. 1912, NPG RP 1337. In 1912 Walton Corbould’s address was Ivanhoe, 12 Woodgrange Avenue, Ealing Common, London. He is sometimes confused with his cousin Walter Edward Corbould (see Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon 1992–; and Benezit 2006). He is not listed in Houfe 1996.
2) ‘Personal information’, 13 Aug. 1912, NPG RP 1337.
3) Layard 1892, p.332.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length, standing and looking to right, with red sketchbook, small pipe clamped in mouth; behind, a brass fender, a coffee pot warming on the grate, and mantelpiece stacked with books and papers.

Provenanceback to top

Thomas G. Bain, donated 1903.

Exhibitionsback to top

Artists at Work, NPG travelling exh., Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery, 1981; Wolverhampton Art Gallery & Museum, 1981–2; Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, 1982; Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, 1982; NPG, London, 1982 (37).

Reproductionsback to top

Magazine of Art, 1903, p.360.

View all known portraits for Charles Samuel Keene