22. ‘German Talk’: Follow-up

Hello, dear German Talkers,

I hope those of you who could make it yesterday enjoyed Paul Croft’s demonstration in the printmaking area and the exhibition.

Below, you find the verbatim version of the talk for you to download free of charge.

Please be aware, as usual, that all images might be under copyright and cannot be used for any other purpose without the copyright holders permission.

I am planning another ‘German Talk’ before Easter and will let you know the new date and topic as soon as possible, so watch this space.

All the best wishes, und vielleicht bis bald,


Curatorial & Technical Assistant

Art Unlocked: School of Art Museum and Galleries, Aberystwyth University, 15th February 2023 (free online event)

The Pet/The Wounded Dove, Rebecca Solomon, 1872, watercolour, WD383

“Art Unlocked is an online event series brought to you by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. Each week, different museum and gallery curators and directors from across the UK will deliver a 30-minute talk on selected works from their collection.”

Dr. Harry Heuser, our Senior Lecturer in Art History, is giving a talk about Victorian painters Rebecca and Simeon Solomon and their relationship with queer Welsh collector George Powell.

Free tickets for this online event are available here:

(The ‘Register’-button will take you to the eventbrite-website.)

IN THEIR ELEMENT, Ceramic Gallery, 14th January – 26th March 2023

As a young girl, Beverley Bell Hughes enjoyed making pinch pots, but this was discouraged during her training at Harrow in the 1960s: she was expected to make thrown, functional ware in the tradition of Bernard Leach and his followers. She eventually returned to hand-building pots and developed her own techniques of pinching and coiling clay to make sculptural vessels. These are inspired by the natural forms and tidal markings that she observes during her walks at Deganwy and the Morfa beach, near the Conwy river estuary in North Wales. She is a Fellow of the Crafts Potters Association and won the Gold Medal for Craft and Design at the National Eisteddfod for Wales in 2019.

Carine Van Gestel also favours the pinch pot technique to create semi-spherical bowls which she then wood-fires. Born in Belgium, she now lives and works in Machynlleth, often digging local clay near Borth beach and Clarach Bay for her work. She is interested in the geological markings of time in local rock strata and formations. Recently she has developed slab-built work in response to the marks imprinted on the landscape by our prehistoric ancestors, incorporating cup and ring rock carvings, lines, dots and circles into her work. She studied ceramics at the Royal Forest of Dean College in the late 1990s and was mentored by Jeremy Steward at Wobage Farm, Ross-on-Wye, in glazing and wood firing.

Kim Colebrook left her career in tourism to study ceramics, receiving an MA from Cardiff School of Art and Design in 2018. Her work is based around coal (‘Black Gold’) as a commodity and its significance in the economic and social history of South Wales. She compares this to the value of porcelain (‘White Gold’) in the 1660s when it was exported to Europe from China. She works in porcelain, creating layers of iron oxides in a Japanese method of working called Nerikomi – stacking and cutting coloured pieces of clay to create patterns. This serves as a metaphor for the ways in which history and memories are buried and distorted through time and distance. She won the 2019 Potclays New and Emerging Maker’s Award at the International Ceramics Festival, Aberystwyth.

Creative Arts January Show, School of Art, 26th January 2023, 5pm – 9pm

The student-led Creative Arts January Show is a pop-up exhibition taking place in the School of Art next Thursday, 26th January, 5-9pm. 20+ student artists will be showing their work in a mixture of live theatre, music, films, installations, writing, photography and painting.

The show will be running throughout the School of Art building. You will be able to pop in whenever you want. There will also be free wine and juice 🙂 .

Social media will keep you updated about information on artists, and a programme/schedule will be posted beforehand as well:



Exploring the School of Art Collection 2022 – ‘Architecture’

Each year, the first-year module ‘Exploring the School of Art Collection’ has a new topic for the students to research. This year it was ‘Architecture’. The students are free to choose any image from our collection which they think would work well with the theme and write a short piece about them. Below, you find the result.

Happy reading!

Modern Education, Frederick Charles Richards, etching, 1917, PR1609

Welsh artist Frederick Charles Richards (1878-1932) channels his frustration, fear, and scrutiny into his etching Modern Education (1917). A respected intellectual and artist, Richards creates a world within this etching that reflects his attitude to early twentieth century- education. He depicts a young nude boy smoking in the foreground of the scene. The youth is surrounded by a selection of neglected, fungi-covered books, some satirical, some more academic. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the large box at the bottom left of the scene labelled “Ancient Methods.” Previously tethered to the young boy’s ankle, the connection has deliberately been cut and the scissors responsible lie by the box. 

Behind him lies an idyllic city – an architectural treasure chest filled with structures built in gothic, renaissance, classical and modern designs. Within the city are representations of the Parthenon, St. Peter’s Basilica, and a Roman arch resembling the Arc de Triomphe. The arch symbolises the threshold between the outside world and the land of education and opportunity. Glorified, the city is depicted as an intellectual and cultural hub, towards which a procession of scholars gravitates. Yet the youthful boy is oblivious, his nudity illustrating his ignorance as well as his inability to comprehend responsibility or consequence​ regarding his education. 

The threshold to the city is straddled by downward paths that lead to a dark abyss, ambiguous and uncertain. The young boy sits in a place between the two on the brink of either proper education or potential ruin. During WWI, public education survived on little money and arts education endured on even less. Richards, an advocate for artistic education, doesn’t blame the young individual in the etching; he blames the public that the boy simply doesn’t know any better. The importance of art education is equivalent to the significance of culture, history, and legacy in our world today. On reflection, I consider myself lucky to live at a time in which the city of wonders Richards imagined through this piece is more palpable than ever before. 

Grace Dealy

Building the Festival Hall, Tom Keating, oil on canvas, 1950, OP253

Tom Keating (1917-1984) was a prolific art forger, as well as an art restorer. He used the skills he learned as a restorer, bringing life to damaged and old paintings, by transferring them to a profession that was much more profitable. His forgeries are expertly painted in the style of the original artists, and their value amounts to almost $10,000,000 in total today. Keating did not rush his forgeries. He first studied the painters and chose his materials carefully before attempting to fake their style. But did he put the same amount of care into his own works?

Building the Festival Hall makes a good example. It was painted early in Keating’s career, before he started forging art. Workers are taking a break during the construction of the Festival Hall while it is enveloped in scaffolding, imprisoning it in a colourful cage. The foreground of the painting depicts everyday figures.

While most figures in the foreground are captivated by the building of the hall, one is leaning against a wall, seemingly unconcerned with the development happening behind him. If Keating wanted to highlight the importance of the construction of the building, why is the scene so mundane? This calls into question the motivation behind this piece: Was the artist a fan of concerts, desiring to capture the creation of a venue that would host one of his favourite pastimes? Or was it the construction itself that drew his attention? Was he fascinated by architecture and decided to capture the form of the building in its raw unfinished state? Or was he simply passing by the building site one day and decided to take up his brush on a whim? That question will never be answered. However, does the painter’s intention truly matter, when we can appreciate the piece perfectly well on its own?

Amy Wenham

A Distant Ship, Penny Brewill, etching, PR3145

As the title suggests, A Distant Ship depicts an abstract composition of various nautical objects to create a maritime scene. In the foreground, we first notice two sheds raised on stilts that seem to resemble beach huts. A dark shadow at the bottom left indicates the presence of a submarine, and a hut with an open window and two portholes is detailed just above it. A large windmill stands behind a three-faced triangular sign to the right of the image. The background shows a large windsock blowing in the wind above the left shed, as well as a vast body of water, with two white shapes that resemble ship funnels along the horizon line.

This etching was created by Penny Brewill, who used various lines and methods such as cross-hatching and potentially foul biting to create detail in her work.  Brewill’s work is based on a deep interest in model-making, plans, and machinery. Therefore, printmaking, particularly etching, appears to be a very suitable artistic medium to support her personal style and interests. The amalgamation of both, the serenity of the seawater depicted in the background and machinery in the foreground, allows us to possibly question the effects that machinery has on the environment. A sense of modernity is thus abundant in Brewill’s seaside etching.

Isabella Murray

Condotto Dell’Acqua Vergine (Virgin Water Conduit), Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s, etching, 1836-1839, PR2773

Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720-1778) etching Condotto Dell’Acqua Vergine (Virgin Water Conduit) (1836-1839), shows an old Roman building beginning to fall into ruin. Outside of the building, six figures are placed alongside its walls. Letters from A to D that correspond with the Italian annotations at the bottom of the print, are scattered throughout the image. When translated, these annotations explain various aspects of the image as well as telling the viewer that the monument is now buried and no longer fully visible.

Piranesi was an Italian printmaker and architect who had a particular fascination with antique Roman buildings, often creating dramatic and highly detailed prints of both ancient and modern buildings throughout Rome. Many of the ancient monuments Piranesi depicted were either in ruin or buried, and, as such, he would use his knowledge of antiquity to give them a new life and represent them in his etchings.

Throughout the 18th century, many aspiring artists or wealthy nobles would travel around Europe to further their education as well as to see many of the great wonders of the world on what was called the Grand Tour. Rome was one of the major cities that were part of the Grand Tour. Piranesi’s etchings were purchased by these nobles as souvenirs to remember their travels upon returning home.

Much like the nobles of the past on their Grand Tours, now in modern times we can use Piranesi’s etching to experience Rome as it would have been experienced during antiquity. Although I personally have never visited Rome, by looking at this etching I get a sense of what it is like there. 

Conor Gauntlett

Tin Building, Moundville, Alabama, Summer 1936, Walker Evans, silver print on Kodak gloss paper, 1936, PH504

Tin Building, Moundville, Alabama, Summer 1936 is an image by American photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975). He is best known for documenting the Great Depression, and a lot of his work shows seemingly ordinary landscapes and buildings; however, it is the stories that lie beneath the surface of these images that need focusing on.

This photo was part of a project called the Farm Security Administration, an organisation that tried to reduce the effects of the Great Depression. Involved photographers such as Evans documented the struggles of the destitute rural population during that time.

Tin Building, Moundville, Alabama, Summer 1936 depicts an old building made of corrugated iron with a decaying sign on the front saying ‘Richard Perkins – Contractor’. A pile of rubble or dirt is placed directly in front of this old building, further emphasising this idea of decay and disregard for things that once were.

Like a lot of Walker’s work, this image is used to portray the issue of poverty. As indicated in its title, this photo was taken in Moundville, Alabama, in the mid 1930s. During that time, the state was going through a major depression and suffering from the highest rate of unemployment in any of the southern states at the time. People could not work nor nor pay their bills, which is why buildings like the one photographed would have to be shut down and left for years without being used.

This photograph is used as a form of historical record of the Great Depression. Its purpose is to remind us to try preventing such a situation reoccurring in the future – as much as we can in any case.  People at the time – especially in the United States – were suffering from events they were unprepared for; they were swept away by the consequences of the stock market crash and problems such as oversupply and overproduction.

George Sewell

Casa di Pescatore, Chioggia, Elio Ciol, silver print on Kodak Mural matt paper, 1961 

In this 1961 photograph by Elio Ciol (born 1929), a dilapidated fisherman’s house in Chioggia, Italy, sits empty, though the human presence in the scene is evident. Clothes hang drying outside, a fishing net is hung across the downstairs window to dry, and a single-wheeled cart sits on the cobbled street outside. I was drawn to this photo because of the way the house was clearly lived in, and the way it poses several questions: Who were the inhabitants of the house? Why aren’t they in the photo? Why did Elio Ciol choose this particular house to photograph?  

Chioggia is a coastal Italian town south of Venice that’s primarily known as a fishing town, although they are known for their lace-making as well. Chioggia is sometimes referred to as ‘Little Venice,’ as there are some canals that run through the town. All of these reasons could be contributing factors as to why Ciol chose to photograph this fisherman’s home and Chioggia in general. As a photographer, Ciol was mainly interested in documenting Italy’s architecture, landscapes, and culture. His photos are usually devoid of people, so it may just be a preference of his to not include them in his work.  

By photographing this old and dilapidated terrace house, with its clothes on the line and fishing nets on the windows, Ciol was able to capture an authentic image of the way the locals lived and the town of Chioggia overall in 1961, without staging anything or distracting from the architecture by adding any people. The subject of the picture is the architecture itself, and how the humans who live in it have made it their own and adapted it to suit their needs.    

Isabella Paris

Veduta degli avasi dell’ Anfieatro Dallas parte interna, Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s, etching, 1836-39, PR2799

The ruins of the Colosseum, a Flavian amphitheatre, dominate the foreground in Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s (1720-1778) etching Veduta degli avasi dell’ Anfieatro Dallas parte interna, particularly the archway in the centre. It is an interesting divider: To the left of the archway are solely the ruins with the odd figure walking among the structure; through the archway to the right, is a small, more contemporary churches built into the walls of the amphitheatre. This area is busier and demonstrates a contrast between historical and modern uses of ancient architecture: Originally it was an amphitheatre, home of gladiator battles and other gory spectacles, later sacred ground and a place of worship. This contrast, and the significance of the archway, is what drew me to this print.

During the decline of the Holy Roman Empire (800/962AD-1806AD), amphitheatres in Rome were seen as nothing more than a source for building materials, which people took full advantage of plundering. However, this was stopped by Pope Benedict XIV in Piranesi’s time. He declared the Colosseum a site of a Christian martyrdom – a claim, which has since been proven false. This explains the presence of the small churches on the right and could also account for the presence of the people on the left-hand side of the archway, walking through the ruins, perhaps combing them for resources.

Piranesi is most famous as an architect, which might explain why he chose to record this scene. His choice might also suggest that he saw the Colosseum as a metaphor for the social and religious changes happening in his lifetime. Furthermore, his career as an architect explains his use of letters as a key to label different aspects of the scene. Written in Italian, the annotations read translated into English for example: “E: sign of the stairs to the top floor.”.

Although the original etching was created circa 1756, this edition dates from around 1836-1839.

Jasmine Banning

Meina Corita, Lombardia 1961, Elio Ciol, silver print on Kodak Mural matt paper, 1961, PH419

This photograph shows a courtyard in Meina, Italy, in 1961. It depicts homes in the village, specifically the exteriors of houses with focus on the railings and stonework. The way it was taken makes your eyes naturally wander up the staircases and around the scene.

It was shot by Italian photographer Elio Ciol (born 1929), who is a documentary and landscape photographer. He started doing photography after watching his father working in his own darkroom as a young boy. I chose this image, because I like its composition. There is something to look at in every corner. The detail in the old stonework, for example, is very intriguing. The image’s composition makes you feel as if you were there; it draws you in and makes you want to take a closer look, to walk around and explore it for yourself.

The image was taken during a phase of economic and population growth and while Italy was still recovering from the impacts of WWII. Ciol would often take photos of ordinary, everyday scenes and refrain from documenting the negative events happening during his career as a photographer. With the situation pretty much the same everywhere in Italy during the 1960s, there is nothing in this image that indicates why he was in Meina at this specific time. We can only speculate as to why was he so interested in this particular village and its buildings, and whether it had any special significance to him.

Lauren Nurse

Old Houses on the Arno, Florence, Frederick Charles Richards, etching, 1916, PR1601

Frederick Charles Richards (1878-1932) was a Welsh artist who enjoyed travelling to different countries and, although he was never academically acclaimed, created 190 etchings and 470 pencil drawings, which made him popular among those in Newport who knew of his work. The preliminary sketches that he made for his etchings were published as sketchbooks in the early 1900s. Among these publications were Oxford (1913), three showing Italy in 1914 (Venice, Rome, and Florence), and Windsor & Eton in the same year.

This print by Richards comes from a design in the Florence sketchbook and shows a row of houses along the river Arno in Florence, Tuscany. A gondola floats on the river, with a passenger sitting on the left and a man standing using an oar on the right. Beyond the gondola, three figures are standing on a staircase that leads from the houses to the water. Other figures are placed in windows at the centre of the image, along with clothing lines strung out on balconies and windows. Most of the etching’s details are in the centre, with the edges of the print remaining empty or with minimal detail.

Two signs appear in this image, reading ‘AGIACCHERI’ and ‘BASTONI PASSEGGIO’ respectively. The latter translates to ‘walking sticks’ while the former does not appear to have a direct translation into English and so might be a family name displayed outside their home.

What I find particularly interesting about this print is that, through his prints, Richards aimed to show the beauty of whatever city or country he was in. Yet, of the whole of Florence, he chose to depict this closely packed, intimate section of houses along the Arno. He reflects this sense of intimacy by etching small, personal details of the buildings and leaving large sections empty.

Robyn Pringle

The Tower of Babel in Pieces, Anne Desmet, wood engraving and linocut, 1999, PR3454

Anne Desmet (born 1964) became fascinated with towers in ancient Rome and medieval Italy that represent human aspiration. This led to her interest in the Tower of Babel, as the story tells us not only about human pride, ambition, and skill, but also about how God always controls our destiny.

The tower was theoretically built by the Babylonians in Shinar (present day Iraq) after the mythical flood described in the Bible’s Book of Genesis (11:1-9). The flood created a people with one language who wanted to create a name for themselves by founding a massive city (Babylonia) and eventually started building a large tower which was meant to reach the heavens. As the tower got taller and taller the people started feeling more prideful. This led to God wanting to put a stop to this undertaking. He gave all the people different languages so they would struggle to understand each other, making it impossible for them to build the tower. The Babylonians eventually stopped the project and began venturing away from one another to various parts of the Earth because they could not live together harmoniously any longer.

This is a story that aims to explain how the different languages evolved.

This print is split into four parts and depicts the Tower of Babel in ruins. A few figures are included to show the scale of the structure. This split can represent how humans were separated by the creation of multiple languages. We get to see some of the interior as well as the exterior of the building. The tower is depicted in a beige colour, because the Babylonians built their structures using mud bricks. We also see a few trees on the balconies of the tower, because they often placed trees and shrubs on the balconies of their big structures.

Saad Hussain

Dark Stairwell, Victoria Baths, Manchester, Anne Desmet, linocut, 2007, PR3455

This linocut by Anne Desmet (born 1964) gives an aerial view over a balcony railing into the dark stairwell below. The staircase’s banister cuts across the image towards a column supporting two arches. Below the arches is a darkened hallway. Above the hallway, two windows set among decorated tiles overlook the scene. The patterned tiles on the floor fade from view into the darkness of the corridors. Shadows and highlights contrast sharply around the banisters and pillars. The blend of olive green and black ink on the white paper provides a small tonal range and contrast in all the right areas. 

Anne Desmet, an artist from Liverpool, created this piece as part of a large series titled Victoria Baths. It was featured in the Urban Evolution exhibition, which took place after a large restoration of the Victoria Baths in Manchester. The exhibition ran from 2008 to 2010 and was said to be about deterioration and renewal. The eeriness of the image adds to the feeling of decay and the absence of human life – only stones and tiles of years past remain. This is part of the story of an old building told in a modern way. It would not have been depicted as such when first erected, as this print was made as a ‘before’-image, prior to the beginning of the restoration of the baths. The elaborate design shows that this was a costly building when it was constructed, and the details are still there to be admired over 100 years later. It is easy to imagine people in Desmet’s scene, milling about and going to the baths. I see this as an apt representation of deterioration and renewal, of bringing life back into a historical building. The artist created an enticing picture which makes one want to see these beautiful baths for oneself.

Talia Bergen

Villaggio di Treffes – Kenya, Elio Ciol, silver print on Kodak Mural matt paper, 1960-1977, PH454

The image I chose to research is by Italian photographer Elio Ciol (born 1929). It is (probably) called Villaggio di Treffes – Kenya; there appears to be no other title than this note written on the margin of the picture. This Italian inscription roughly translates to ‘a village to meet’ in English. The silver print from the 1960s or 1970s shows a small Kenyan farming village. There are two white horses in the foreground that seem to be making their way to the village. They lead the viewer’s eyes into the main subject of the image. The place consists of several wooden huts with thatched roofs and a tin shed. There are fenced-off areas that separate the village from the plains. A few chickens are roaming around the huts, which suggests to me that this is a farming village. Some people are also depicted in the scene, but they are difficult to spot among the huts. The dwellings are examples of vernacular and functional architecture, which are constructed with the resources of the land. They are built with the weather, terrain and function in mind. At first, I struggled to understand why Ciol chose to photograph this particular village, until I found an interview with Paolo Mattei in the Italian Ways magazine, in which Ciol talks about his attraction to the lives his farmer friends had when he was younger. He mentions “the charm in the poverty of farmers’ lives” and how he enjoyed capturing it. This makes me believe that Ciol chose to photograph this village, because it was another example of a simple farming community, but from a different culture. I believe the reason he took this image wasn’t to focus on the people specifically, but to document what their everyday lives looked like through the eyes of a person who had never seen or lived that life before.

Toni Smith

Billboards and Frame Houses, Atlanta, Georgia, March 1936, Walker Evans, silver print on Kodak gloss paper, 1936, PH501

Billboards and Frame Houses, Atlanta, Georgia, 1936 is a snapshot of a street in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. The picture was taken by famous photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975). During most of his career, he captured people in the United States affected by the Great Depression. By doing so, he put a face to the despair that people were reading about in the newspapers. Interestingly, we see no people in this image, so that intention is perhaps less obvious. 

The photo was taken in 1936, near the end of the Depression. It shows the view of two ‘frame houses’ from across the street. Directly underneath the houses are billboards promoting the latest Hollywood movies to be released soon. These help us date the work to around March 1936. This image stood out to me, as there is a stark contrast between the hastily built houses and the commercial billboards. Even in monochrome they “pop out” of the photo.  

Evans worked for the Resettlement Administration (later known as the Farm Security Administration, or FSA) during the time the image was taken. He was hired to document small-town life and how the government was aiding the rural communities during the Depression. One of his tasks was to record the way people were housed, which could explain why there are dwellings but no people in this photograph. 

The houses in the background are near identical, apart from the curtains hanging in one of the windows of the house on the left – the only sign that someone actually lives there. Evans has managed to really drive this point of uniformity home by including an equal amount of space on the sides of the photograph, as well as “framing” the houses with the tram wire above. 

These houses were most likely built as part of the public housing program in Atlanta, which started in the early 1930s. They were constructed as a substitute for middle-class families who had lost their own property/homes due to the Depression.The movement, started by real estate developer Charles Palmer, took heavy inspiration from European housing schemes.

Tiril Sorum

22. ‘German Talk’: ‘Collaboration in Practice – British Lithography 1800-2022, School of Art Galleries, 25th January 2023

Hello dear ‘German Talkers’,

I hope you are all enjoying the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle and are keeping warm during these frosty late-autumn days.

The first ‘German Talk’ of 2023 will be on Wednesday, 25th January, at 5.30pm.

In addition to my usual introduction talk, Paul Croft – printmaker, lecturer at the School of Art and curator of this exhibition – has very kindly offered to give a demonstration (in English) in the printmaking area of the school. This will give you a greater insight into how a lithograph is actually created.

Have a lovely Christmas and a good start into 2023!

All the best wishes, und hoffentlich bis bald,



At Cross Purposes – 14 February-21 April 2023, School of Art, Gallery 1 & 2

At Cross Purposes is a creative curatorial project supported by 56 Group Wales that has led to the production of new work and new partnerships, a touring exhibition and accompanying book. The title of the project reflects its mix of conversation, creative practice and curation. The project required that sixteen members of 56 Group Wales each be partnered with an invited artist from elsewhere in the UK and Ireland selected by the project director, Dr Frances Woodley. Each pair of artists were then invited to engage with her in a three-way conversation/correspondence using email. Thirty-two artists and a curator have thus been involved in this project, an ambitious enterprise that has required lively exchanges and considerable commitment during the difficult period that spanned the Covid-19 lockdowns when artists were often confined to their makeshift studios.

The exhibition, At Cross Purposes, accompanies the launch of At Cross Purposes: 3-way conversations between two artists and a curator a book edited by Dr Frances Woodley.

Charles Samuel Keene – “Draw a thing as you see it!”

Photo of Charles Keene seated looking to the left.
Charles Keene by Elliot & Fry (Wikipedia)

Charles Samuel Keene was born into a middle-class family in August 1823 in Hornsey, Middlesex (these days, it is part of the London Borough of Haringey). His father, Samuel Browne Keene, was a solicitor of Furnival’s Inn and his mother Mary was a member of the prominent Sparrow family of Ipswich, Suffolk. Keene was first educated at a boarding school in Bayswater, together with his younger brother Henry. His family then moved to Ipswich, probably a couple of years before 1838, and they lived in his mother’s old family home. He and Henry entered the Grammar School in Foundation Street there. Apparently, Keene had quite delicate features and was called ‘Miss Keene’ by his schoolmates. According to an anecdote told by one of his sisters and recorded by his early biographer George Somes Layard, he and one of his cousins dressed up as girls one day and applied for a servant position in the Sparrow household. Legend has it that one of them succeeded in securing a situation; sadly, it is not known, which one of them.

Biographer Simon Houfe assumes that Keene’s later love for antiques, books and art developed during this time in Ipswich as the Sparrows were very cultured, and his uncle William Sparrow was an artist. Like his fellow illustrators John Leech (1817-64) and William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63), he also seems to have enjoyed doodling during his school lessons. Keene fell irrevocably in love with Suffolk, the birthplace of famous painters Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) and John Constable (1776-1837), and would spend holidays in his favourite county as an adult. However, tragedy struck when Keene’s father died in early January 1838 and his mother was left a widow with five children – Charles and Henry, and their sisters Mary, Anne and Kate. By late 1839, they had moved back to London and teenager Charles entered his father’s firm at Furnival’s Inn.

It turned out that the legal profession was not for him, so he was placed with the architect William Pilkington. He continued to draw in his spare time, and his mother appreciated and encouraged her son’s talent. She even took it upon herself to find buyers for his work. At first, it seemed a hopeless enterprise, but her persistence was eventually rewarded, and his drawings were sold to a dealer for modest sums. His images caught the attention of one of the Whypmer brothers, the well-established wood engravers. As a result, he was apprenticed to their workshop for five years in 1842.

For the first part of his apprenticeship, he still lived with his family, but when his mother decided to move to Lewisham with his siblings, he took his own lodgings in Bloomsbury. In addition, he rented a ramshackle studio in the Strand. That place certainly left a lasting impression on those who visited him. A Mr W. L. Thomas described the place as follows:

“[…] a gabled house with his room projecting, and the floor sloping in an alarming manner over the street.  One had to climb a dark, rickety staircase, and, after fumbling among some old woodwork, you found the door. You then had to make your way by dodging and stooping your head amongst clothes-lines drawn across the room, carrying all sorts of old costumes and properties […].”

As for the young Charles Keene himself, Henry William Dulcken (1832-1894), for whose translation of German Songs from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (1856) Keene did some of his first book illustrations, describes him as “[…]a very grave, saturnine-looking young fellow, with a face like a young Don Quixote […].” He was rarely seen without one of his ancient, little clay pipes, some of which had been recovered from building sites or even the mud of the Thames. He preferred smoking ‘dottles’ – tobacco leftovers scraped out of previous pipes and kept in little tins for reuse. He would light his pipes the old-fashioned way with flint and steel rather than matches. Just like his bohemian lifestyle, his attire was unconventional and always seemed a little out of date; Layard mentions that he, for example, never wore a top hat. As Forrest Reid writes, he “was a man of strong individuality, and from boyhood pursued his own way.”

Like many of his contemporaries, he had a passion for antiquities. He enjoyed searching for old books and prints and collected music and flints. His acquisitions were discussed at length in letters to friends. He had a good singing voice and was a member of various choirs such as the ‘Jermyn Band’ and ‘Leslies’ Choir’. The ‘Jermyn Band’, named after the street near Piccadilly where they first met, was later re-christened the ‘Moray Minstrels’ after Moray Lodge in Kensington, where the choir relocated to. It was the residence of well-heeled silk merchant Arthur James Lewis and his wife, the actress Kate Terry (1844-1924), sister of actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928). Many of the Punch staff took part in those vespertine musical get-togethers. Keene also taught himself to play the bagpipes and achieved a considerable level of skill.

Frederick Walker (British, London 1840–1875 Perthshire, Scotland)
The Moray Minstrels (Invitation card of Arthur J. Lewis), 1865
Wood engraving; Sheet: 5 13/16 × 8 1/4 in. (14.7 × 20.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1958 (58.503.2)

Although an avid draughtsman from early age, Keene never had any formal training. From around 1848, he would visit the weekly life drawing sessions of what would become known as the Langham Artists’ Society. Here, he could study the nude and dressed model and enhance his natural talent. He kept attending those meetings for over a decade. During his holidays in the countryside of Surrey, where he rented a cottage for many years, and in Suffolk, he always extensively studied and drew the landscape.

The frontispiece of American author Samuel Griswold Goodrich’s (1793-1860) novel The Adventures of Dick Boldhero (1842) appears to be one of Keene’s earliest works as an illustrator, created whilst he was still in the employ of the Whymper Brothers. Another early commission was James Burns’ 1847 edition of The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Keene carried on working for the Whymper Brothers as and when required and also started contributing to the Illustrated London News together with his friend and fellow wood-engraving apprentice Samuel Read (1815-83), the future manager of that journal’s art department. They were both, for example, involved in creating depictions of Sebastopol and the Crimean War (1853-56). Keene did not particularly enjoy this sort of journalistic illustration, but it was a steady source of income for the time being.

From 1851, Keene had begun contributing illustrations to Punch magazine. At first, his designs were made for one of his friends, the journalist Henry Silver (1828-1910). As Silver commented himself: “I was writing then for ‘Punch’ as an outsider, but my ambition was to draw, and for this I had no talent.” So, Keene undertook the task to illustrate the writer’s texts but without signing them. Silver wrote to Layard that this left editor Mark Lemon (1809-70) under the impression that he did his own illustrations and complimented him on his skills. This led the journalist to induce Keene to sign his works, so that he would not get into trouble for getting the credit. The first initialled work in Punch by Keene appeared thus in 1854. Although he had worked for the periodical since the early 1850s, he did not appear at the infamous Punch table before 1860. It was there, where every Wednesday the ‘big cuts’ – full page cartoons, mainly commenting on current political affairs – were discussed over dinner.

Like John Leech (1817-64), he was an observer of society, especially street life and the ‘lower’ classes, and had a real knack for emulating local accents and dialects in his captions. He would be very upset if an editor changed his ‘legends’ – as he called them – at all, be it the tiniest of alterations. He rarely invented his own jokes but would get his inspiration from his friend Joseph Crawhall, who jotted down and sketched jokes in a collection of albums. When Leech died in 1864, Keene took over as the main illustrator of daily life at Punch. Just as Leech before him, he would leave the political cartoons and big cuts to John Tenniel (1820-1914). As one of the chief illustrators, he would also contribute to the annual Punch Pocket Book for many years and design its fold-outs and hand-coloured frontispieces. The Pocket Books were a mixture of business calendar, notebook and a light entertainment section, and published before Christmas between 1843 and 1881. They were created as an extra source of income, just as the annual Punch Almanack. Although he created between two- and three thousand drawings for Punch, Keene never became a salaried member of staff; instead, he preferred to be paid for each piece he delivered.

Punch illustrations in the School of Art Museum collection by Charles Keene (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

The tendency to consult Crawhall’s albums for his commissions did not mean that the illustrator no ideas of his own. Reid explains that Keene carried a small bottle of self-manufactured ink attached to his jacket, and steel pens and sketchbook in his pocket to always be ready to record what caught his attention. He had a great talent to catch people’s expressions. These sketches would find their way into the pages of Punch, and the landscapes he studied so carefully during his holidays would be faithfully rendered in the background of his images.

Although Keene had been a wood engraver’s apprentice and was therefore well aware of the challenges to transfer an illustrator’s drawing onto the woodblock, he seemed to consider this issue very little when it came to his own designs. He had a preference for drawing on odd ‘bits of paper’, including old envelopes, and would sometimes make any imperfections of the paper or its texture part of the image. Apart from using pencil, he would work with inks and Chinese white and in different colours, and apply them with pens, brushes or even his fingers for great tonal effects. This mixture of techniques made it a nightmare for the engravers, who could only work in solid black lines on white paper, to achieve an equally quality result.

Throughout his career, Keene would be inspired by a wide variety of sources such as fellow illustrator Tenniel and the Pre-Raphaelites. Of the latter, he counted John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) among his friends. He was influenced and collected works by German painters and printmakers Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (1726-1801) and Adolph Menzel (1815-1905). Menzel specialised in history paintings and was devoted to depicting scenes naturalistically. Art historian Gert Schiff (1926-90) explains that Menzel was compelled to “draw whatever he saw”, which echoes Keene’s own motto “Draw a thing as you see it!”. The two artists began a friendly correspondence and exchanged examples of their work. Paul Goldman suggests that Menzel took out a subscription for Punch only because of Keene’s images. In 1901, an anonymous Times critic of the ‘Exhibition of Modern Illustration’, which included works by Keene, called Menzel even the “Father of Modern Illustration”. This seems to reinforce the idea that the English illustrator was inspired by his Prussian counterpart.

Despite of working for Punch for almost 40 years, Keene never achieved the huge popularity that John Leech had before him. He also illustrated for the periodical Once a Week and created images for popular authors such as Mrs Henry Wood (1814-1887) and George Meredith (1828-1909), which should have made him well-known to an even wider audience. Nevertheless, many fellow artists saw him as one of the finest draughtsmen of his time. His colleagues at Punch and others, such as American James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and French Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), admired his work. Degas owned about 215 wood engravings by Keene at the time of his death. Walter Sickert (1860-1942) went as far as to declare that “The Impressionist painters were great admirers and students of his drawings. The painting of trees in sunlight by Monet and Sisley is based on his drawings.”

Images for Evan Harrington by George Meredith, Once a Week vol. 2 & 3, 1860, in the School of Art collection (Click on the images to enlarge them.)

Etching was a common interest he shared with Whistler, with whom he was good friends. The fellow artist even tried to persuade him to be a witness in his famous court case against writer and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900). American printmaker Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) describes Keene as a “master” of etching. However, the illustrator did not regard printmaking as a career move or a means of gaining financial profit, although his prints won him a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition in 1889. Keene didn’t even enter the etchings himself; it was Mrs Edwin Edwards, who also happened to do the actual printing of his designs, who submitted his work.

The Edwards were a wealthy couple; Edwards (1823-1879) himself was a painter and etcher. The three of them became intimate friends in the 1860s. When they first met in early 1863, Mrs Edwards wrote in her diary:” C. Keene seems full of pleasant fun and humour. Tells a story well.” Keene, always fond of giving his friends nicknames, affectionately named them ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’. The couple had contacts to artists across Europe, especially France. This might have also helped making Keene’s work known to people such as Degas and Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). The Edwards and the illustrator would spend their holidays together at Clifford Cottage, Southwold, in Keene’s beloved Suffolk.

Although Keene had a wide circle of friends, of which only a few are mentioned here, and enjoyed company, he never married. He had a very close bond with his family and had lived with his mother and sisters in the family home in Hammersmith, since he had quitted his lodgings in Bloomsbury in 1855. His sister Kate, who had modelled for him many times, died March 1881 and his mother only two months later at the beginning of May. In a letter he sent to a friend the same day, he writes: “I could not feel her pulse; she drew a few breaths calmly; another – she was gone! I can’t write any more just now, but my heart it lighter now she is released from pain.” He loved animals and had a little Dachshund that lived with him to the grand old age of seventeen. He described her as a “quiet, affectionate little animal, always sniffing about for mice and such small deer.”  According to Layard, the last drawing Keene made was that of her little, dead body in 1890. He also kept a jackdaw and a crow as pets at some point in his life and would even feed the rats in his studio in the Strand.

An advocate of exercise, the illustrator would walk longs distances from Hammersmith to his various studios: first the aforementioned place in The Strand, then in Clipstone Street (the old rooms of The Artists’ Society), Baker Street and after that, two places in Chelsea – first in Queen’s Road West (now Royal Hospital Road) and then in King’s Road. He gave up the last studio with a heavy heart in 1889 due to his declining health. Apart from a temporary break, when he mysteriously developed a disgust for tobacco, he had always been a heavy smoker, and eventually paid the price for that unhealthy habit. He also suffered from rheumatism and dyspepsia. The last two years leading to his death were marked by pain and a growing physical weakness. However, he continued to go out and visit friends as much as possible. When he was finally confined to his home, many friends, including Holman Hunt and Millais would see him and bring tasty food along for him. His old servant, Mary Ann Smith, was devoted to his care and he gratefully bequeathed an annual pension to her in his will. He died on the 4th January 1891. Layard writes that his last words, after noticing that it had snowed, were: “Oh what will the little birds do?”

Charles Samuel Keene was buried a week later at Hammersmith cemetery. The funeral was attended by most of his Punch colleagues and friends. On the same day, The Athenaeum published his obituary, in which they described him as “one of the most delightful companions, of the kindest spirit and most genial wit.” At one of their next ‘Morey Minstrels’ meetings in February, Layard relates that his companions sang a quiet requiem in his honour. The Art Journal called him “so rare an artist, who has unaffectedly held the mirror up to nature” in their March publication.   

Karen Westendorf (Curatorial & Technical Assistant)



For more images by Charles Samuel Keene in the School of Art collection, search here: http://museum.aber.ac.uk 

Anon. ‘Exhibition of Modern Illustration’. The Times, 14 Jan 1901.

Buckler, William E. “Once a Week under Samuel Lucas, 1859-65.” PMLA 67.7 (1952): 924-941. JSTOR. Web. 24 Aug. 2022.

Chesson, Wilfrid Hugh, Pennell, Joseph. The Work of Charles Keene. Whitefriars Press for T. Fisher Unwin and Bradbury, Agnew & Co., 1897.

Gettmann, Royal A. “Serialization and Evan Harrington.” PMLA 64.5 (1949): 963-975. JSTOR. Web. 19 Aug. 2022.

Goldman, Paul. “The Artists’ Artist”: An Introduction to Charles Keene’s Work. https://victorianweb.org/art/illustration/keene/goldman.html

Houfe, Simon. Keene, Charles Samuel. Oxford Dictionary of National Biographyhttps://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/15246

Houfe, Simon. The Work of Charles Samuel Keene. Scolar Press, 1995.

Layard, George Somes. The Life and Letters of Charles Keene. https://archive.org/details/gri_33125013642737

Leary, Patrick. The Punch Brotherhood: Table Talk and Print Culture in Mid-Victorian London. The British Library, 2010.

Pimlott Baker, Anne. Read, Samuel. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/23220

Price, R. G. G. A History of Punch. Collins, 1957.

Reid, Forrest. Illustrators of the 1860s: An Illustrated Survey of the Work of 58 Artists. https://archive.org/details/illustratorsofei0000reid

Schiff, Gert, Waetzoldt, Stephan. German Masters of the Nineteenth Century – Paintings and Drawings from the Federal Republic of Germany. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/German_Masters_of_the_Nineteenth_Century_Paintings_and_Drawings_from_the_Federal_Republic_of_Germany

Spielman, M.H. The History of “Punch”. https://archive.org/details/historyofpunch00spie_0/mode/2up




21. German Talk – Follow-up ‘The Derbyshire Collection’

Hello German Talkers,

It was great seeing some of you yesterday, and I hope you enjoyed the talk and looking at some of the works from the Derbyshire Collection. For those who couldn’t make it, you can find the text to download and print free of charge below. Unfortunately, I can’t include any images, as most of them are under copyright and, while I was allowed to show them during the talk in a presentation, I am not permitted to publish them online (Please do not reuse/duplicate the cover image Janet in the PDF for any purpose.). However, if you would like to have a look at some paintings from that collection in our care, you can find them on the Art UK website: https://artuk.org

The paintings that were shown during the talk and are currently on display in one of our seminar rooms are:

Christopher Hall

Ashford Hill, Hampshire

Brindley Road, Paddington, London

Capo di Rio, Italy

The Beach at Marzocca, Italy

Wakefield Street, Bloomsbury, London

Edward le Bas

Band in Hyde Park

Edward Middleditch

Still Life, Blossoms

Ernest Perry


Frederick Mcdonald

Two Figures with a Machine

Fred Uhlman

New York

Hugh Verschoyle Croynyn


James Boswell

Shoreham Beach

Jean Young

Feeding the Pigeons

John Ridgewell

Buildings and River

Lionel Bulmer

The Greengrocer

Nan Youngman

Landscape in South Wales

Peter Sheldon-Williams

El Cid at Peñiscola

Ralph Allen


Reginald Henson

The Fishmongers

Thomas Swimmer

Ruined Church, Casares, Spain

Night Fishing Lamps

Louis James

Still Life

Alan Price

Flower Market, Paris, France

You can search for the artist, the title of the image, or just enter ‘Aberystwyth University’ to find works from our collection on the Art UK website.

You can download the PDF with yesterday’s (almost) verbatim talk here:

I will publish the date for the next talk as soon as possible. It will probably be at the end of January.

All the best wishes, und vielleicht bis bald,


Callum McDonald’s AberForward Experience at the School of Art, Summer 2022

I serendipitously happened upon the School of Art’s vacancy for a Curatorial Assistant in the late spring, having just completed the taught portion of my master’s degree course in Information and Library Studies a few weeks prior. I jumped at the opportunity to learn new skills and gain work experience relevant to my interest in cultural heritage. Beginning in mid-June, I spent a month working in the School of Art assisting the departmental staff in a variety of ways.

One of my first major tasks was assisting my supervisor Phil Garratt in hanging a number of works, selected from the extensive collection recently donated by Derbyshire County Council Schools Library Service, in the School of Art’s seminar room. This first involved screwing mirror plates into frames to ensure they could be securely attached to the wall – a relatively benign task for someone who felt a little daunted to be handling some of the more valuable works! We then worked together to hang the works around the room.

View of a seminar room with a ladder, paintings on the walls, stacked chairs and various DIY tools lying on tables.
Room 206
Seminar room tables with two paintings lying on them and more paintings in frames standing on the floor and leaning against the wall opposite the tables.
Room 206
Panorama view of a room with paintings on each wall and tables and chairs grouped together at the centre of the room.
Room 206

The We Live with the Land / The Land as Other exhibition was in the process of being set up during my placement. Neil Holland guided me through the process of hanging artworks, first my finding an appropriate eye line and making sure works were suitably spaced. After this, I applied some finishing touches by giving the mirror plates on the frames a coating of paint to match the walls – a simple touch that helped make the wall displays look much more presentable.

Gallery view with a ladder in the middle of the room and a variety of framed prints on the walls.
We Live with the Land / The Land as Other exhibition

In my third week, I was introduced to the rudiments of mount cutting by Neil. I was able to cut my teeth on a small mix of lithographs, engravings and digital prints which needed to be mounted. This was a challenging job that demanded a mixture of dexterity, precision, and focus, and involved the use of a variety of tools and equipment that were completely new to me. As tricky as the work could be, it was great seeing a finished product which was created through my own work from first measuring out the large pieces of card used to create the mounts, right through to framing the prints at the end.

Tools for mount cutting, including white mountboard, a print a ruler, a pencil and a green, vinyl cutting mat
Mount cutting-tools
Tools for cutting mounts
Mount cutting-tools
Two illustrations mounted on white mount board
Freshly mounted

In the run up to one of the department’s open days, Phil and I set to preparing one of the large studio spaces on the first floor for the exhibit of various works by faculty and students, both past and present, to show off to prospective students. This was a great chance to handle works in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and formats. This included multiple audio-visual works which required the set-up of monitors and speakers (and more than a little trial and error!) to achieve a desired result.

This was an incredibly satisfying project, as I could see the studio space slowly take shape as the it was filled and more works were put on the walls, and it was fascinating to get an insight into Phil’s thought processes as he considered which artworks could work in a specific space or configuration. It was nice to see a couple of the prints I had mounted a few days prior on the walls too!

Installation of black squares lying on a wooden floor.
Getting ready for Open Day
Large studio space with white walls and wooden floors. Framed pictures are placed on the floor and leaning against the walls
Getting ready for Open Day

There were various other smaller jobs I helped with through the placement, including helping Phil to hang works in corridors in preparation for the open day; helping Louise Chennell to prepare the ceramics gallery in the Arts Centre for the arrival of Paul Scott’s exhibition on New American Scenery; organising prints in the store room; and updating the biographies of ceramicists whose works could be found in the university’s extensive ceramics collection.

The entire month was a brilliant experience, and it was a pleasure meeting and working with all of the friendly staff in the department. A special thanks are due to my supervisors Phil and Neil who spent so much time guiding me through my work. I ended the placement with a new confidence that I was fully capable of working in a cultural heritage environment, performing an array of different tasks. Being able to describe my time at the School of Art also looked great on my job applications and CV coming out of my degree course! I would recommend this placement to any students, undergrad or postgrad, who feel like they might benefit from the experience.

Callum McDonald