Charles Green was a painter and illustrator of genre and historical subjects. He is now best remembered for images illustrating, or inspired by, the work of Charles Dickens. Charles Green was born in Well Walk, Hampstead, on 17 August 1840, and baptised twice: at St John’s, Hampstead, on 4 September 1840 (possibly because he was sickly), and again at St Mary’s, Islington, on 8 April 1842. He was the youngest of five children of Henry Gilson Green, then a gentleman of independent means, and his wife, Mary Anne or Marianne (née Reynolds). Mary Anne had a number of interesting literary connections. Her mother was related to the Hamilton family, which included William Beckford; her elder brother was John Hamilton Reynolds, poet, critic, journalist, playwright, satirist, and, like Mary Anne, a friend of the poet, John Keats; their sister, Jane, was married to Thomas Hood.
Charles Green spent his early years at the house in Well Walk.
However, by 1851, the family had moved to 22 Richmond Road (now Richmond Avenue), Islington, to live with his mother’s father, George Reynolds, and her sister, Charlotte. His father was working as an attorney solicitor’s general clerk, and he took up a position in the same office. He made drawings in his spare time, including some in classes at James Mathews Leigh’s School of Fine Art, at 79 Newman Street, north of Oxford Street. In 1857, his father wrote to the leading wood engraver and illustrator, John Gilbert, enclosing some of Charles’s drawings and asking his advice. Gilbert was sufficiently encouraging that, two years later, in May 1859, Charles began an apprenticeship with the wood engraver, Josiah Whymper, at 20 Canterbury Place (now 45 Lambeth Road), Lambeth, and lived next door to the studio. He worked alongside, and befriended, James Mahoney, J W North, G J Pinwell and Frederick Walker. They were paid ten shillings for three days’ work each week, and encouraged to work in ‘the Gilbert style’.
By the time that the census was taken in 1861, Charles Green had returned to live with his family, which had moved across Islington to 15 College Terrace (now College Cross). His elder brother, Henry Towneley Green, who would also become a watercolour artist, was then working as an insurance clerk. Charles quickly established himself as an illustrator, and made the most of opportunities afforded by the growth in the number of illustrated books and magazines.
Among books, Charles Green contributed to Cassell’s Illustrated Family Bible (1859-63), English Sacred Poetry of the Olden Times (1864), The Life and Lessons of Our Lord (1864), the Choice Series of selections from the poets (1864) and Isaac Watts’ Divine and Moral Songs (1865). Among magazines, he contributed to Once a Week (from 1860), The Cornhill Magazine (including 1862), The Churchman’s Family Magazine (1863-64), London Society (1863, 1867), The Illustrated London News (1866), Cassell’s Family Magazine (1867), The Sunday at Home (1867, 1869), The Leisure Hour (1869), and Good Words for the Young (1870). His contribution of contemporary subjects to the early numbers of The Graphic (from 1869) were admired by Van Gogh.
As a watercolourist, Charles Green specialised in literary and other genre scenes, often with period settings. He transformed some of his delicate pen and ink illustrations by adding watercolour, and often used a stippled technique influenced by William Henry Hunt. He joined the Langham Sketching Club (by 1864) and Savage Club, and was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (ARI 1864; RI 1867), of which his brother, Towneley, was also a member. Also painting in oils, he exhibited at the Royal Academy until 1883. In 1878, he was elected an honorary member of the Imperial Royal Academy of Vienna.
Charles Green was probably best known for his illustrations to works by Charles Dickens, and for watercolours inspired by them. Notable among these were The Old Curiosity Shop for Chapman and Hall’s ‘Household Edition’ in 1871, A Christmas Carol for Pears Christmas Annual in 1892, and, his last work, Great Expectations for Chapman and Hall’s ‘Gadshill Edition’ in 1898. He also became known for theatrical subjects, including scenes from plays, glimpses backstage and views of auditoria.
By 1881, Charles Green was living with his siblings, Marianne and Towneley, and their aunt, Charlotte Reynolds, at 78 Park Road, Haverstock Hill. On visits to the house, such friends as the actor, Frank Archer, would enjoy listening to Charlotte reminisce about Keats, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Dickens. Charles also had a studio at Charlecote, 3 Hampstead Hill Gardens, which was designed especially for him by the architects, Batterbury and Huxley, in 1878. He and Towneley hosted ‘smoking parties’ there, and it eventually became their home. He died there 15 years later, early in May 1898 (and possibly the first of the month), and was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. In October 1899, the Fine Art Society held a memorial exhibition. Towneley died in December 1899, and a large sale of the works of the two brothers was held at Christie Manson & Woods, London, in 1900.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the V&A; and the Mercer Art Gallery (Harrogate).
Further reading: John Fulleylove, ‘Personal recollections of two Hampstead artists: Charles and Towneley Green’, The Hampstead Annual, 1900, pages 94-105