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Charles Samuel Keene

Charles Samuel Keene, by Charles Samuel Keene, circa 1885 -NPG 2817 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Charles Samuel Keene

by Charles Samuel Keene
Pen and brown ink, with traces of pencil, on buff paper (brown envelope), circa 1885
5 1/2 in. x 3 1/8 in. (139 mm x 79 mm)
NPG 2817

Inscriptionback to top

Drawing on back of a piece of envelope bearing a penny postage stamp and postmarked ‘LONDON EC / A2 / DEC 2/ 85’, addressed to ‘C. Keene, Esq., / 239, King’s Road / Chelsea’.
Old mount printed: ‘CHARLES S. KEENE. / By HIMSELF’;
attached above, slip of paper inscr. by artist: ‘[illegible] … / Charles S Keene’;
on reverse, inscr. in pencil bottom left-hand corner: ’24 / Mr. M.H. Spielmann / Uplands / Sandgate Rd / Folkestone’.
Old backing paper with labels (now removed to Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive):
(a) printed ‘Punch Exhibition’ label inscr.: ‘M.H. Spielmann’;
(b) plain label inscr. ‘M. H. Spielmann / 21 Cadogan Gardens /S.W.’;
(c) Academy of Arts, Newcastle-on-Tyne exh. label inscr.: ‘M.H. Spielmann / 21. C.G.’;
(d) framer’s label printed ‘Fine Art Department / Trade mark / William Whiteley / Westbourne Grove / London. W / 157 Queen’s Road, W.’ inscr. ‘241’;
(e) round paper label inscr.: ‘20’.

This portraitback to top

This self-portrait was apparently taken in front of the whole-length mirror Keene used for working out poses:

…in his Strand studio a prominent object was the large cheval glass, before which he would pose as his own model, and, after his death, large parcels of these studies, done chiefly upon the insides of old envelopes which he had treasured up for the purpose, were found among his papers. Any envelopes would not do, and he chiefly affected certain brown coloured ones which he received in correspondence with Mr. Swain. [1]

Joseph Swain was the wood-engraver charged with the task of translating Keene’s subtle drawings into engravings for Punch. He wrote that Keene ‘had the strongest aversion to drawing-paper or Bristol boards, preferring any scrap, even a half sheet of notepaper, with a rough grain and coloured by age’. It was impossible, he said ‘for any one unacquainted with his method to ascertain the means by which he obtained his effects’; Keene also mixed his own inks. [2] The postmark has bled through and appears at the lower left of this drawing.

For other self-portraits drawn in brown ink on fibrous brown paper, showing Keene wearing a similar costume of knee breeches/gaiters, see Tate, N04370 (1884) and N03611. For a good range of self-portrait sketches see the collections of the Tate and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. [3]

This drawing was part of the portrait collection built up by the art historian and journalist Marion Harry Spielmann. It was no.28 in the ‘illustrated catalogue’ or inventory he kept of his collection. [4] In August 1935, eleven drawings, including NPG 2817, were selected for acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery and the purchase was finalized in April 1936. [5]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Layard 1892, p.114. For Keene’s ‘sky-parlour’ in the Strand and the cheval glass, see also pp.16–23.
2) Layard 1892, pp.143–4; and Spielmann 1895a, p.488. ‘He sometimes drew, not with a pen, but with flat pieces of wood. He used to ask for, and save up as drawing material, the buff envelopes used by Swain and others, from his friend Tuer of Campden Hill Square. He drew on the rough inside surfaces of these envelopes, the roughness serving to break up his lines.’ Emmanuel 1939, p.19.
3) For reproductions of other drawings of the same type, see Pennell 1897, pp.11, 13, 17, 20, 24, 28, 31, 34 and 36.
4) See correspondence between H.M. Hake and M.H. Spielmann, NPG RP 2810–20.
5) See NPG Report of the Trustees 1936–7.

Physical descriptionback to top

Nearly whole-length, standing, full-face, holding ?roll of paper in both hands, a book under his right arm.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1981.

Provenanceback to top

Marion Harry Spielmann, purchased Apr. 1936.

Reproductionsback to top


View all known portraits for Charles Samuel Keene