William   Knight   Keeling

(1807 - 21 February 1886)

British (Victorian) artist, an illustrator of Walter Scott's novels and Shakespeare's plays, a founder member and the third President of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.

Keeling was born in Manchester. He was apprenticed to a wood-engraver, and in the 1830s, went to London and became an assistant of William Bradley (1801-1857), a Manchester-born artist who moved to London in 1822, and established himself as a portrait painter. Keeling returned to Manchester in 1835, and worked as a portrait and figurative painter in oils and watercolour, and a drawing-master. From the 1830s, he actively exhibited in Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere. In 1833, his painting 'The Bird's Nest' was awarded the silver medal from the Royal Manchester Institution. In 1841, he was elected a member of the New Society of Painters in Watercolours, where he exhibited about 60 works.

In 1859, Keeling became a founder member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, and its third president from 1865 to 1877. He was a member of the Manchester Literary Club and the Brasenose Club.

In the 1850s, following the notion of the day, he travelled to Spain. This journey gave him new ideas, subjects, and motifs. Delicate details and a clear and bright palette, inspired by the hot colours of the South, are distinctive features of his paintings and watercolours. In 1873, a Manchester newspaper praised one of his watercolours as "an exquisite work, perfectly Spanish". He also was influenced by works by the Spanish artist Bartolomé Estéban Murillo (1617-1682). Murillo’s street children can be easily recognised in Keeling’s depictions of poor children, both British and Spanish. His ‘Spanish Boy’ exhibited in Manchester in 1876, was described as "a very good example of the careful and accurate method pursued by the artist. He is thoroughly conscientious in all his professional work."

Keeling married Mary Ann Charker (b. 1822) in London in 1851. They had four children: Edith (b. 1852), Dalton Harper (b. 1853), Sidney Charles (b. 1859), and Gertrude Ann (b. 1862). Keeling died in his house at Barton-upon-Irwell, Manchester.

Keeling did not strive for fame and glory, and remained in the background of the artistic life of his time, although many connoisseurs appreciated his works. Several of his works are in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. In the 1870s, Wolverhampton industrialist and collector Sidney Cartwright purchased from a Manchester exhibition a large number of Keeling’s works. In 1887, they were given to Wolverhampton Art Gallery, which possesses today possibly the largest collection of Keeling’s paintings and watercolours in the United Kingdom.

Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.

WILLIAM KNIGHT KEELING, (1807–1886), artist, born in Cooper Street, Manchester, in 1807, was apprenticed to a wood-engraver of that town, and showed great aptitude for that art, but at an early age he went to London to become an assistant to William Bradley [q. v.] the portrait-painter, and helped Bradley not only in painting but in engraving portraits of some of his more celebrated sitters. About 1835, he returned to Manchester, practised as a painter of portraits and figure-subjects in oil and water-colour, and gave lessons in drawing. He made some excellent drawings from ‘Gil Blas,’ a few of which were engraved in Heath's Annual. Many of his earlier works, especially his illustrations to Sir Walter Scott and other authors, were much in the manner of his friend Henry Liverseege [q. v.] In the exhibition of the Royal Manchester Institution, 1831, he was represented by an illustration to Scott's novel The Betrothed, and he long continued a regular exhibitor both at the annual and occasional exhibitions. He was awarded the Heywood silver medal by the institution in 1833, for an oil painting, ‘The Bird's-nest.’

He was a member of the original Manchester Academy, and took a prominent part in the foundation of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, of which he was president from 1864 to 1877. To their exhibitions he regularly contributed figure-subjects and portraits till 1883. He was elected an associate of the New Society of Painters in Water-colour in 1840, and a full member in 1841. Most of his best work in water-colour was shown in their exhibitions. He also exhibited once at the Royal Academy, and once at the British Institute. His exhibited pictures included
‘Gurth and Wamba’ (in 1832),
‘Touchstone, Audrey, and William,’
‘The Interdicted Letter,’
‘Gil Blas' Adventure with the Parasite,’ and several portraits.
He was a successful teacher, and among his pupils was Mr. T. Oldham Barlow, R.A. Keeling died at his residence, Barton-upon-Irwell, near Manchester, on 21 Feb. 1886.

[Manchester Guardian, 24 Feb. 1886; Graves's Dictionary of Artists.]


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