Charles Keeping is one of the great British illustrators of the 20th Century. His work was wonderfully experimental and he could draw superbly. The illustration below is from an early book The Dancer at Burton Fair.
Charles Keeping (1922-1988) was a Londoner through and through. Born in Lambeth on the banks of the River Thames his illustrated books reflect his deep knowledge of London.
Following service in the Navy during the Second World War, Charles Keeping studied illustration, design and lithography at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic. His tutors recognised his skill and encouraged him to continue at the Royal College of Art but Keeping needed to earn a living and thus chose to go freelance as an illustrator.
At the beginning of his career Charles Keeping created a distinct and strong black and white style of illustration. Many of these can be seen in his illustrations for Rosemary Sutcliff’s books.
He was very successful as a book illustrator in the 1950s, and eventually began receiving commissions from the Oxford University Press. As with many illustrators working at that time, the advances in colour printing gave these artists the opportunity to experiment and expand their skills. The 1960s evolved into a golden era for a whole range of illustrators and designers.
From the 1960s on into the 1980s Charles Keeping was at the height of his career as an illustrator and writer. The series of books he produced at this time are full of his experiment in both illustration and story telling, as can be seen in Alfie and the Ferryboat, Inter-City, and Through the Window, to name but a few.
At the very end of his career Charles Keeping illustrated the entire set of Charles Dickens for the Folio Society. With his knowledge and affinity with London this commission was an inspired choice.