Charles Keeping (1924-1988) As an illustrator and lithographer, Charles Keeping produced dynamic and emotive images. He became particularly well known for his work on historical novels for children, and produced the first full edition of Dickens to be illustrated by a single artist. He also wrote the texts to his own highly memorable picture books. Charles Keeping was born in Lambeth, East London, on 22 September 1924. His secure and happy upbringing had an unusually important effect in shaping both the man and the artist. In spending his childhood in a house that overlooked an active stable yard, he became a frequent and accurate observer of horses and carts.
While, in working as a gas meter rent collector in areas of poverty, he gained the experience that made him the perfect modern artist to illustrate the work of Charles Dickens. Keeping attended the Frank Bryant School for Boys, in Kennington, leaving at the age of 14 to become apprenticed to a printer. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he was conscripted into the Royal Navy. When the war was over, he studied art at the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-52), where he met the designer and illustrator Renate Meyer, whom he later married. He took various jobs, including cartoonist on the Daily Herald, before starting work as a book illustrator. In 1956, he was commissioned by the Oxford University Press to illustrate stories for children written by Rosemary Sutcliffe, and with the encouragement of the doyenne of children’s book editors, Mabel George of OUP, was launched on a career which for three decades made him one of the best known and more prolific illustrators (1960-1980s). He made brilliant use of colour and the new printing techniques, using a mixture of gouache, tempera, watercolour and inks. He was an early enthusiast for Plasticowell, the grained plastic sheets designed by the printers, Cowells of Ipswich, for lithographic illustrations. Keeping won the Kate Greenaway award for Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary (1967), and again for The Highwayman (1981); he was a prize-winner in the Francis Williams Award for Tinker, Tailor (1968), and for Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Wildman (1976); and he won the Emil Award in 1987 for Jack the Treacle Eater. His commitment to the immense project to illustrate the complete Dickens for the Folio Society was total, and he completed it just before his death on 16 May 1988.