Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Gallery owner sells up after 45 years

A GALLERY owner in Henley is to retire after 45 years.

A GALLERY owner in Henley is to retire after 45 years.

Barry Keene will close his business in Thames Side at the end of the month to spend more time working as an artist. He has sold the listed building.

He has run the gallery with the help of his wife Jill, not only exhibiting and selling pictures but also offering a restoration and framing service.

Mr Keene, who grew up in Emmer Green, completed a fine arts trade guild apprenticeship while working at Reading Fine Art Gallery in the Sixties. In the evenings he studied painting and drawing at Berkshire College of Art.

He opened a shop in Queen’s Hall, above where Pachangas restaurant is now, in 1971, sharing the premises with Arthur Young, a furniture restorer. He ran a framing and restoration business and then opened a gallery when Mr Young died in the early Seventies.

The businesses moved to Thames Side in 1985 to replace the Mary Earl Tearoom and an adjoining sweet shop.

Mr Keene bought the building, which has a 19th century shopfront, because he liked its location and “feel”.

He said: “It gives me a feeling of being within a house rather then a shop. It has a nice little garden behind and it has a view from the front of which I have never tired. It feels like being in a town and the countryside.

“I arrive for work and look at the river and think ‘what a place to be’. People come from all over the world to look at this view and be by the Thames and I have had it every day.”

Mr Keene said he would miss his customers most of all, including some famous names he wouldn’t reveal.

“Some families I am into the third generation and some of them I have known for 40 years,” he said.

Mr Keene said he would have been unable to run the business without his wife, who organised the administration and looked after the gallery when he was looking for new items. “Over the years we have sold paintings to people from all over the world whether they have come specially to visit the gallery or I have been discovered by the many people who visit this beautiful town,” he said.

The couple have two grown-up sons, Ben and Edward.

Mr Keene said he had seen the high street change and could remember when Henley had 13 antiques shops.

“The shops have changed and there are more coffee shops than there used to be,” he said. “These things only survive if people want to use them and it seems to be the fashion.

“It has to be difficult for new businesses because of the overheads and increased rates, which have increased enormously but I don’t know much about that because I don’t rent.” The art world, however, is still much the same as it was 45 years ago. Mr Keene said: “It does not really change. It goes round in a big circle — it’s a generational thing.

“I sell a range of things so I’ve got something for every generation, style and medium.

“There is always something for everybody who is interested in any form of painting.”

He will stay in the trade, focusing on his own work, particularly seascapes. He often visits Cornwall to paint the beaches there.

Mr Keene said he didn’t know what his premises would become. Last year, he was granted planning permission to turn the gallery into a two-bedroom house.

“I have sold it and it depends what the people who bought it want to do,” he said. “The planning permission was to give another option to the people who were interested in buying it.”

One thing he is sure of is that the buyer will be able to enjoy one of the best views in Henley.

Mr Keene said: “I shall miss arriving and looking at the river in the morning. There is a danger I might set off and discover I am not supposed to be coming.”

* The Barry Keene Gallery is staging an exhibition and retirement sale from Tuesday until it closes on April 30.

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