Portrait of a boy drawing; Artist in front of an easel (verso)
* 1823 in Hornsey † 1891 in London
Pencil on paper. Size of sheet: 14.7 x 9.7 cm.
Described by Frederick Leighton as “that delightful artist and unsurpassed student of character,” Charles Keene was one of England’s best artists in pen and ink. Although totally dedicated to his trade his life and work seemed, to some extent, at odds with one another. His reputation preceded him and he caught the attention of both Edgar Degas and James McNeill Whistler, the latter describing him as the best British artist since William Hogarth. In life, however, Keene was unalterably modest, sartorially disinterested and described etching (a pastime in which he was extremely accomplished) as mere “scratching on copper.”
The depiction on the recto shows a tender image of a boy in deep concentration and contemplation of his sheet. Most likely drawing from life, he sits low to the ground and it is easy to envisage him looking up from his sheet to consider his subject in front of him. The image on the verso is a more relaxed image of an older artist at his easel. An interesting comparison between the youthful eagerness of the boy and the more mature, developed approach of the artist at his easel. Both show Keene’s effortlessly clean drawing technique. This verso also relates to a drawing in the Tate collection, Two Artists working by Lamplight in a Studio, c. 1860, Tate Britain (T03840).