William Keable (1714—1774) was a moderately successful artist who subscribed (for three copies!) to the first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective. Yale has a self-portrait from 1748 (as William Keeble).
Little is known about him—Hugh Belsey refers to him as “this shadowy artist”—but if he was from Suffolk, as Belsey also claims, he may have been related to the successful apothecary Ralph Keable of Beccles who subscribed to the second edition of the Suffolk Traveller in 1764.
His period of success seems to have spanned the late 1740s and early 1750s. He worked as a portrait artist in London, and gained several commissions from wealthy merchants (and their relations) visiting England from South Carolina from 1749 onwards, although in 1751, one of the richer Charlestonians, Peter Manigault, disdained his services, preferring the more fashionable Allan Ramsay at 24 guineas a head to Keable’s seven. The best known of Keable’s American portraits is probably that of Mrs. Benjamin Smith (Anne Loughton) now in the Gibbes Museum, another portrait with a false oval surround.
In Kirby’s subscriber list of 1754, Keable is marked as a member of the St. Martin’s Lane Academy and so was then presumably still working in London, but in the early 1760s he moved to Italy, where he died in 1774. He does not appear in Thomas Mortimer’s fairly comprehensive list of London artists in his Universal Director of 1763.
Keable’s American connections and St. Martin’s Lane Academy membership probably account for one of Gainsborough’s early conversation piece commissions, Peter Darnell Muilman, Charles Crokatt and William Keable in a Landscape currently at the Tate [it is co-owned by Gainsborough’s House – see comment below].
The painting is dated around 1748 to 1750, so at the close of Gainsborough’s early London period, or possibly when he had moved to Sudbury (although he did visit London periodically). William Keable is seated in the center playing the flute, and it has been suggested that he painted his own face. Peter Muilman (1730—1766) was the son of a rich London merchant, Henry Muilman, who, together with his equally successful brother Peter, bought estates in Essex in 1749 and retired from business. Charles Crokatt, on the left, was the son of James Crokatt, a wealthy merchant from South Carolina, who bought extensive estates in Essex in 1749. Crokatt married Peter Muilman’s sister Anna in April 1752, and the two may well have been engaged at the time the work was painted.