About a Painting - ‘View of Derby from Chaddesden Hill, on a Windy Day’ by William Caxton Keene

PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 October 2014

'View of Derby from Chaddesden Hill, on a Windy Day, by William Caxton Keene

'View of Derby from Chaddesden Hill, on a Windy Day, by William Caxton Keene

Derby Museum

Lucy Bamford, senior curator of art at Derby’s Museum and Art Gallery, discusses ‘View of Derby from Chaddesden Hill, on a Windy Day’

Joseph Pickford's House, Friar Gate, DerbyJoseph Pickford's House, Friar Gate, Derby

Autumn, it seems, has already made itself known to us in an abrupt and unforgiving fashion. As I write this, the leaves are turning and the long hazy days of summer are giving way to the damp and the blustery so this month’s offering is something of an indulgence on my part – William Caxton Keene’s watercolour ‘View of Derby from Chaddesden Hill, on a Windy Day’, a painting that, for all its apparent simplicity, captures the mood of seasonal transition so eloquently.

A mackerel sky, tinged with warm colour, signals the onset – or perhaps the waning – of a late afternoon rainstorm. Wind ripples across a sea of grasses. Below, the tall forms of landmarks both lost and still familiar rise from a blue mist; to the right All Saints’ (now Derby Cathedral) tower, followed by the spire of the now demolished Saint Alkmund’s, and Saint Mary’s, while to the left, the many roofs and chimneys of Derby’s riverside and canal-side industries.

Keene’s viewpoint, Chaddesden Hill, is itself unrecognisable. His clear uninterrupted vista of the town has long since been lost to extensive residential development following the Second World War and whilst the painting is undated, Keene’s death in 1910 suggests this was produced sometime around the late 19th century, or turn of the 20th.

The name Keene will no doubt be familiar to many readers. The son of the Derby photographer Richard and the brother of artist Alfred John, William Caxton Keene was a member of one of Derby’s most famous artistic dynasties. Despite this, and his successful contributions to the Royal Academy, his work is little known and frequently overshadowed by that of Alfred. Both produced work for the local art collector Alfred Edward Goodey, whose extensive collection of nearly 600 paintings, prints and drawings of old Derby were eventually bequeathed to Derby Museums in 1936.

Whilst Alfred John Keene’s watercolour scenes of Derby streets and architecture are marked by their crisp colours and exacting detail, his brother’s are altogether looser, the brushwork freer. ‘A View of Derby from Chaddesden Hill’ is no exception, its limited colour palette, light touch and broad washes are all typical of the artist’s approach. Only the stalks and flowers of grasses in the painting’s foreground, produced by masking the paper before painting, reveal bright spots of delicate detail. The result is impressionistic; a painting that captures the essence of time and place, and the chilly onset of autumn on a hill overlooking Derby 100 years ago.

This painting is currently on display at Pickford’s House Museum, Derby, as part of the exhibition ‘Highlights of the Alfred Goodey Collection of Old Derby Pictures’, the first of a series of shows devoted to Goodey and his ever-popular collection. The exhibition runs until Sunday 19th October.

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