Illustration of Robinson Crusoe
Illustration from Robinson Crusoe, c. 1847

My name is John Langdon, and I’m one of the archive curators. I look after post 1968 archive acquisitions and digital records. I have chosen this drawing by Charles Keene from amongst the Archive collections for 1976.  It is a small sketch in pencil, done as part of a series of illustrations for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.  The sketch first caught my eye because of its subject - Robinson Crusoe’s story is still well known, long after it was first published in the eighteenth century, even featuring in a current insurance ad on tv.  Here we see Crusoe setting out with his dog, a familiar figure in the hat and clothes he made himself. This drawing is a preliminary study, which Keene would have later worked up into the finished illustration.  As an archive curator, one of the parts of the job that I most enjoy is the chance to see artists’ preparatory work and how it relates to their finished pieces.  The Archive contains many sketchbooks, drawings, maquettes, and objects used as source material, all of which give a glimpse into how an artist worked. For me, there is added interest in the drawing when I looked at it in the light of Keene’s career.  Keene did the illustrations for an 1847 edition of Robinson Crusoe.  He had just finished his apprenticeship with the Whymper Brothers, well known wood engravers.  Robinson Crusoe was his first major book, and would have played an important part in launching his career. Keene was later to become known for his work for Punch. The long association between the two began in 1851.  Although at first reluctant to put his name to his drawings, his CK monogram was to appear on a regular flow of illustrations that lasted until shortly before his death in 1891.  Acutely observed and precisely drafted, his work focused on contemporary society, capturing a range of social trends and characters.  He often appeared in his own work, his spare, unconventional figure recognisable to those who knew him. The drawing is one of a large collection of drawings and engravings by Keene held at Tate Archive.  The collection includes other illustrations for Robinson Crusoe, sketches, and a substantial number of engravings from Punch.  Tate Archive also holds material relating to other artists who produced illustrations, including Fougasse, who followed Keene at Punch, John Banting, and Paul Nash.


766 Written by John Langdon



Fascinating to read about both the sketches and the archive. would love to have a chance to see and hear more about what is in the archives, actually. It's so interesting to follow the whole process of a painting from time to time, where that is available. Do you ever do tours of the archives?