John Keenan, Portrait Painter

(fl. 1780-1819)

Portrait Painter

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

He was a pupil and assistant to Robert Home (q.v.) in Dublin, and about 1790 went to London. He was painting in Bath in 1792 and afterwards in Exeter, but returned to London in 1801, where he acquired a good practice as a portrait painter and was much esteemed for his groups of children. In 1803 he took up his residence at Windsor, was patronized by the Royal Family, and in 1809 was appointed portrait painter to Queen Charlotte. His work at this time was chiefly in miniature painting. He exhibited in the Royal Academy from 1791 to 1815; among his contributions were portraits of "Charles Forrest," the Irish artist, 1795; "Earl St. Vincent," 1801; "Robert Southey," 1803 and 1814; and "The Earl of Uxbridge," 1812.

Although Keenan enjoyed some contemporary reputation as a portrait painter his name and works became wholly forgotten until restored to fame by a picture exhibited by Messrs. Shepherd in their gallery in King Street, St. James, in 1912. This picture, a "Portrait of a Lady," signed and dated 1802, attracted much attention by its masterly technique, fully justifying the esteem in which the artist was held in his lifetime. "The painter's palette," says a notice in the "Connoisseur" (Dec, 1912), "possesses affinity to Raeburn's, but is even more simple, the colouration of the picture being limited to black, white, grey and the flesh tints. His handling, too, is not unlike that of the Scotch artist, but less certain, looser and more atmospheric. In the largeness of its style, fine tonal quality and the absence of any striving after prettiness of effect, the picture constitutes an almost unique example of English early nineteenth century art." The picture now belongs to Sir Hickman Bacon, Bart.

In, or soon after, 1817 Keenan returned to Ireland and from an address in White's Lane, Dublin, he sent an oil portrait and three miniatures, including one of "Robert Southey," to the exhibition in Hawkins Street. He again exhibited in 1819, sending from 63 Abbey Street eleven portraits in oil, including one of "Baron George." Nothing further is known of him after this date. His wife exhibited landscapes in the Royal Academy from 1807 to 1813. Several of Keenan's portraits were engraved: "James Lackington, bookseller," by E. Scott, as frontispiece to his "Memoirs," 1792; "Sir Henry Fletcher, M.P. for Cumberland," mezzotinted by J. Young; "John, Earl St. Vincent," mezzotinted by W. Barnard in 1801, and also engraved by J. Cochran and by J. H. Wallis; "John Sheldon, professor of Anatomy in the Royal Academy," mezzotinted by W. Barnard in 1803, and "William Wallis," mezzotinted by Charles Turner in 1810.

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