Liss Llewellyn Fine Art - 20th Century British Art

Louis Keene (1888-1972)   BIOGRAPHY

 
Barrage Balloons and Searchlights, circa 1941
Framed (ref: 7256)
Signed  
Watercolour, india ink, pencil, and chalk 
13 3/4  x 15 1/2 in. (35 x 39.3 cm)

 


Provenance: The Artists daughter, Canada.


Exhibited: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Morley College London, 28 October -23 November 2016, cat 34.

Literature: WW2 - War Pictures by British Artists, Edited by Sacha Llewellyn & Paul Liss, July 2016, cat 34, page 71.

As Commanding Officer of the Lorne Scots during WW2 Keene witnessed the bombing of Liverpool and London.  According to an article in the  Evening Standard (May 29, 1942), his paintings, including  a vivid incendiary bomb picture were included in the National Gallery show of May 1942.  His obituary (Oakville, 8 May 1972) reported, While in England Col. Keene did some paintings of the air raids and these were later purchased by the British government. Some of his wartime paintings were also sold to the Canadian government.

Favouring nighttime views,  (illuminated by searchlights, fires and bombs) his pictures are often characterised by a surreal feeling, heightened by  the use of shallow perspectives and intense colours.

NELSON WONDERS; TRAFALGAR SQUARE, LONDON, 1940;
Canadian War Museum

"The Awakening"; Liverpool. May, 1941.
Canadian War Museum

Despite the presence of barrage balloons and searchlights German bombers 
often successfully penetrated the Barrage Balloons and Searchlights.  Once 
a fire got started, a breeze might blow burning fragments onto other 
undamaged properties and start new fires there, indicated by 
the thin red streaks of burning debris carried towards the 
right of the picture.

Bringing down high-flying German aircraft at night was no easy matter for the 
ground forces and vast amounts of ammunition were expended in the effort.  
The blazing build was clearly positioned near to a public park or other open 
space from which balloons were deployed, many of them operated by 
Women's Auxiliary Air Force personnel.  Light anti-aircraft defences are also 
in action as indicated by the exploding shells bursting in yellow at high 
altitude.

For dramatic effect 
Keene's impression combines  the elements of night-time 
defence more closely than in reality they would have appeared.

We are grateful to Andrew Cormack for assistance.



Louis Keene (1888-1972)

Born in England Keene spent his youth in South aftrica and most of his life in Canada but studied art in London, Paris  and Munich.  He came from an artistic background: his mother was a prominent photographer (the first woman to be elected to the Royal Photographic Society) and his father and artist and craftsman.  When he was only 17 Louis and his father held a joint exhibition of their paintings in South Africa.  Keene travelled throughout his life,in Europe but also Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Hong Kong, Mexico and Siberia. Throughout his army career Keene was an avid artist, using watercolour, ink and pencil, and India ink and chalk to create his pictures. They range from scenes he completed in Siberia during WWI (Canadian Expeditionary Force) to WWII paintings inspired by events in Surrey and London.

When Keene was stationed at Tweedsmuir Camp  (Surrey) during the Second World War, he permitted a few of his paintings to be exhibited in Thursley village (in close proximity to the camp) in aid of the roof fund for St Michael's church, Thursley. 
Many of Keene's works are held at the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC). 

Keene had a distinguished career in both World Wars.   In WW1 he was commissioned as second lieutenant and was wounded at Ypres his right hand smashed by shrapnel. He later spent six months with the Canadian Army in Siberia. In the Second World War, as Commanding Officer of the Lorne Scots he witnessed the bombing of Liverpool and London.  He was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

On 20 March 1943 'The Hamilton Spectator' (Canadian newspaper) announced that NDHQ had promoted Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Keene to full Colonel, with address of his next of kin. Hereafter Keene has been referred to as Colonel Keene of Oakville, Ontario. Reporting in the Spectator on 4 December 1944 Doug How, Canadian War Correspondent, stated that Keene's promotion, in February 1943, made him the highest ranking Lorne Scots Officer serving in western Europe.

Throughout his army career Keene was an avid artist, using watercolour, ink and pencil, and India ink and chalk to create his pictures. They range from scenes he completed in Siberia during WWI (Canadian Expeditionary Force) to WWII paintings inspired by events in Surrey and London.

According to his Obituary, While in England Col. Keene did some paintings of the air raids and these were later purchased by the British government. Some of his wartime paintings were also sold to the Canadian government and the artist later sold several of his works to Sir Edmund Walker, Canadian financier and one of the founders of the Toronto Art Gallery.




"The Trench Raid," Louis Keene, 1917.

See all works by Louis Keene