Keene (10 August 1823–4 January 1891) was an English artist and illustrator, who worked in black and white.
In December 1851 he made his first appearance in Pencil and, after nine years of steady work, was called to a seat at the famous table. It was during this period of probation that he first gave evidence of those transcendent qualities which make his work at once the joy and despair of his brother craftsmen. On the starting of Once a Week, in 1859, Keene’s services were requisitioned, his most notable series in this periodical being the illustrations to “Charles Reade’s A Good Fight” (afterwards rechristened “The Cloister and the Hearth”) and to George Meredith’s “Evan Harrington”. There is a quality of conventionality in the earlier of these which completely disappears in the later.
In 1858, Keene, who was endowed with a fine voice and was an enthusiastic admirer of old-fashioned music, joined the Jermyn Band, afterwards better known as the Moray Minstrels. He was also for many years a member of Leslie’s Choir, the Sacred Harmonic Society, the Catch, Glee and Canon Club, and the Bach Choir. He was also an industrious performer on the bagpipes, of which instrument he brought together a considerable collection of specimens.
About 1863 the Arts Club in Hanover Square was started, with Keene as one of the original members. In 1864 John Leech died, and Keene’s work in Punch thenceforward found wider opportunities. It was about this time that the greatest of all modern artists of his class, Menzel, discovered Keene’s existence, and became a subscriber to Punch solely for the sake of enjoying week by week the work of his brother craftsman. In 1872, Keene, who, though fully possessed of the humorous sense, was not within measurable distance of Leech as a jester, and whose drawings were consequently not sufficiently funny to appeal to the laughter-loving public, was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Joseph Crawhall, who had been in the habit for many years of jotting down any humorous incidents he might hear of or observe, illustrating them at leisure for his own amusement. These were placed unreservedly at Keene’s disposal, and to their inspiration we owe at least 250 of his most successful drawings in the last twenty years of his connection with Punch. A list of more than 200 of these subjects is given at the end of The Life and Letters of Charles Keene of Punch.
In 1879 Keene removed to 239 Kings Road, Chelsea, which he occupied until his last illness, walking daily to and from his house, 112 Hammersmith Road. In 1881 a volume of his Punch drawings was published by Messrs Bradbury & Agnew, with the title Our People. In 1883, Keene, who had hitherto been a strong man, developed symptoms of dyspepsia and rheumatism. By 1889 these had increased to an alarming degree, and the last two years of his life were passed in acute suffering borne with the greatest courage. He died unmarried, after a singularly uneventful life, and his body lies in Hammersmith cemetery.