Charles Keeping

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Charles Keeping
Born (1924-09-22)22 September 1924
Lambeth, London, England
Died 16 May 1988(1988-05-16) (aged 63)
London, England
Occupation Illustrator, writer, lithographer
Nationality British
Period 1952–1988
Genre Children's literature
Notable works
Notable awards Kate Greenaway Medal
1967, 1981
Spouse Renate Meyer

Charles William James Keeping (22 September 1924 - 16 May 1988) was a British illustrator, children's book author and lithographer. He first came to prominence with his illustrations of Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels for children, and he created more than twenty picture books. He also illustrated the complete works of Charles Dickens for the Folio Society.

Keeping won two Kate Greenaway Medals from the Library Association for the year's best children's book illustration, for his own story Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary (1967) and for a new edition (1981) of Alfred Noyes's poem "The Highwayman".[1][2] For the 50th anniversary of the Medal (1955–2005), a panel named his edition of The Highwayman one of the top ten winning works, which composed the ballot for a public election of the nation's favourite.[3] He also illustrated The God Beneath the Sea, by Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen, which won the 1970 Carnegie Medal for children's literature.

Charles Keeping (1967) Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary

His lithographs have been exhibited in London, Italy, Austria and the U.S., including at the 1958 Fifth International Biennial of Contemporary Color Lithography in Cincinnati. He has prints in many collections, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

For his contribution as a children's illustrator Keeping was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1974.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Charles Keeping was born and grew up in Lambeth, London, in a terraced house that housed three generations. He lived in an inner city environment of street markets and working horses that would inform his work his entire life. Charles and his elder sister, Grace, drew and made up stories from an early age, on surplus newsstand placards brought home by their father, Charles Keeping senior, who distributed newspapers to shops and newsstands in the area and boxed under the name Charlie Clarke.

Young Charles was interested in little but drawing and horses, and did poorly at school. He left at 14. The Second World War broke out the following year, and when he turned 18 in 1942 he was called up and joined the Royal Navy as a wireless operator. He returned to civvy street in 1946 with a profound depression and a belief that a head wound he had sustained had disfigured him on the inside as well as (temporarily) on the outside, and would cause him to turn evil like Dr Jekyll becoming Mr Hyde. He received treatment, was institutionalised for a time, and made a full recovery, but perhaps his sympathetic visual treatments of Frankenstein's monster and Grendel, the monster from Beowulf, owe something to this period of his life.

He applied for a grant to study art at the Regent Street Polytechnic, but for several years was turned down, so he read meters for a gas company during the day and took life drawing classes in the evening. He also worked as a life model, and on one such occasion in 1949 his demonstration of the functions of the muscles of the back attracted the eye of Renate Meyer, a student who married him in 1952.

Keeping did get into the Regent Street Polytechnic, where he was taught by well-known illustrators Nigel Lambourne and Stuart Tresilian. He took the two-year Intermediate Examination in six months before specialising in illustration and lithography.

Published work[edit]

His first published work was a comic strip in a newspaper, the Daily Herald, which he drew for four years, beginning in 1952. He didn't much enjoy it, not seeing himself as a cartoonist, but despite this he also drew cartoons for the Jewish Chronicle, was political cartoonist for the Middle Eastern Review for a time, and later contributed to Punch magazine.

Rosemary Sutcliff (1976), Blood Feud, book jacket by Keeping

His first book was a humorous health-promotion book called Why Die of Heart Disease? in 1953, and he illustrated a number of educational textbooks, but his breakthrough came in 1957 when he illustrated Rosemary Sutcliff's historical children's novel The Silver Branch, which he would later refer to as his "first book". His drawings were vigorous and played with the conventions of size and placement within the text, and he would go on to illustrate many more children's novels by Sutcliff, Henry Treece, Charles Kingsley, Alan Garner, Geoffrey Trease, Charles Causley, Kevin Crossley-Holland and many others. Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen's retelling of Greek myths, The God Beneath the Sea, which Keeping illustrated in 1970, won the Carnegie Medal for that year.

He also worked on adult novels, including editions of H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone. In 1964 he began an association with the Folio Society with an edition of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. He made no secret that he didn't like the book, but nonethess produced twenty-two two-colour lithographs for a publisher who only wanted, and was only prepared to pay for, twelve. The lithographs were sweeping, expressionistic and emotionally charged. He took a similar approach for Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and others.

In 1966 he created his first picture books, Black Dolly and Sean and the Carthorse, both about mistreated working horses. He followed these with the stunning Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary (Oxford, 1967), a modern fairy tale about two children who grow up in the same street, are separated when one family moves to a new tower block, and are reunited thanks to a pet canary. It depicts the gradual disappearance of the London of Keeping's childhood, a theme he would persistently revist. The full-colour illustrations are excitingly messy and spontaneous, using intense colour, sponge texturing and wax resist, and won Keeping his first Greenaway Medal.[1] Kirkus concluded a very short review, "Intense colors in striking combinations overwhelm the minimal story."[6]

Keeping created 15 full-colour picture books for Oxford University Press, and several for other publishers. Joseph's Yard (1969) and Through the Window (1970), two of his finest, were also produced as short films for the BBC's "Storyline" programme. Through the Window in particular showcases many of Keeping's techniques and themes. Told through the eyes of a small boy watching events in the street outside from his bedroom window, the illustrations are full of intense evening light and colour, movement, and even, when a horse-drawn dray rattles across a double-page spread, virtual sound. Other picture books include Richard (1973), about a day in the life of a police horse; Wasteground Circus (1975), on the transient but magical effect on two young boys of the circus coming to town; and Willie's Fire Engine (1980), a romantic, dreamlike tale of a young Edinburgh boy's dream of being a firefighter.

In 1975 Keeping produced perhaps his most personal work, Cockney Ding Dong, a lavish 190-page volume collecting and illustrating the traditional songs of the family singalongs of his childhood. A record of some the songs was also released, featuring the voices of members of Keeping's family. Charles himself sings "They're Moving Father's Grave to Build a Sewer!"

Beginning in 1978 with The Pickwick Papers, Keeping took on the mammoth task of illustrating the complete works of Charles Dickens for the Folio Society. His knowledge of the vanishing world of industrial London made him the perfect man for the job. The books were originally to be produced by letterpress printing, meaning the illustrations must be pure line drawings with no tones or washes. When they came to be published more modern printing techniques were used which would have allowed Keeping a full range of tones, but he had started with line drawings, so he used the same technique for the entire series, illustrating two books a year until he completed the task with Martin Chuzzlewit in 1988.

Oxford University Press created a new format for Keeping - the black and white picture book for older children. Keeping created four books in this format: The Highwayman (1981), illustrating the 1906 poem by Alfred Noyes in gruesome detail, for which he won his second Greenaway Medal;[2] Beowulf (1982), adapted from the Anglo-Saxon epic by Kevin Crossley-Holland, in which the illustrations subverted the text with a certain sympathy for the monster; The Wedding Ghost (1985), an original story by Leon Garfield; and The Lady of Shalott (1986), illustrating the 1833/1842 Arthurian poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. All were illustrated in evocative line and wash. The influence of Swedish illustrator John Bauer can most clearly be seen on Beowulf.

Keeping continued to produce colour picture books from time to time, including Railway Passage, which was Highly Commended for the 1974 Greenaway Medal;[7][a] Sammy Streetsinger (1984), about a subway busker's rise to fame as a pop star and subsequent return to happy obscurity; and his final book, Adam and Paradise Island, another story of the changing landscape of London, which was published posthumously in 1989.

Charles Keeping died of a brain tumour on 16 May 1988. His widow, Renate Meyer, ran the Keeping Gallery, displaying his and her own work for many years. She died in 2014. [8]

His biographer has commented,


The biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award conferred by the International Board on Books for Young People is the highest recognition available to a writer or illustrator of children's books. Keeping was one of three runners-up for the illustration award in 1974 and was the British nominee again in 1978.[4][5]

He won several awards for particular books.

  • 1967 Kate Greenaway Medal, Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary, written by Keeping[1]
  • 1972 Francis Williams Award for Illustration, Tinker Tailor: Folk Song Tales (New York: World), tunes "arranged for voice and piano by K. Neil Slater" (WorldCat)
  • 1977 Francis Williams Award for Illustration, The Wildman, written by Kevin Crossley-Holland
  • 1981 Kate Greenaway Medal, The Highwayman, written by Alfred Noyes (1906)[2]
  • 1987 Kurt Maschler Award, or the Emil, Jack the Treacle Eater (Macmillan), with writer Charles Causley for integrated of writing and illustration in a British children's book[9]
  • 1988 W H Smith Illustration Award, Charles Keeping's Classic Tales of the Macabre, written by various authors

Keeping was also a runner-up for at least three Greenaway Medals, which then recognised the year's best children's book illustration by a British subject:[7][a]

Railway Passage was the first runner up "Highly Commended" for the Medal. Both distinctions were abandoned after 2002.[7][a]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Today there are usually eight books on the Greenaway shortlist. According to CCSU, some runners up through 2002 were Commended (from 1959) or Highly Commended (from 1974). There were 31 high commendations in 29 years including Keeping alone in 1974. There were 99 commendations of both kinds in 44 years including two for 1969, three 1970, and two 1974.
    • No one has won three Greenaway Medals. Among the fourteen illustrators with two Medals, Keeping is one of seven with one book named to the Anniversary Top Ten (1955–2005); one of seven with at least one Highly Commended runner up (1974–2002); one of six with at least three commendations (1959-2002).


  1. ^ a b c (Greenaway Winner 1967). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-16.
  2. ^ a b c (Greenaway Winner 1981). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-16.
  3. ^ "70 Years Celebration: Anniversary Top Tens". The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-06-30.
  4. ^ a b "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  5. ^ a b "Candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 1956–2002". The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Pages 110–18. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online ( Retrieved 2013-07-28.
  6. ^ "CHARLEY, CHARLOTTE AND THE GOLDEN CANARY by Charles Keeping". Kirkus Reviews 15 February 1968. Retrieved 2012-12-02.
  7. ^ a b c "Kate Greenaway Medal". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-06-25.
  8. ^ Renate Keeping obituary
  9. ^ "Kurt Maschler Awards". Book Awards. Retrieved 2012-07-16.
  10. ^ (Carnegie Winner 1970). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-16.
  • D. Martin, "Charles Keeping", in Douglas Martin, The Telling Line: Essays On Fifteen Contemporary Book Illustrators (Julia MacRae Books, 1989), pp. 36–59
  • Douglas Martin, Charles Keeping: an illustrator's life (MacRae, 1993)

Further reading[edit]

  • Charles Keeping, "Illustration in children's books", Children's Literature in Education 1 (1970 March), pp. 41–54
  • The Pied Pipers: interviews with the influential creators of children's literature by Justin Wintle and Emma Fisher (1974)

External links[edit]

Works by Keeping