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Although the amateur artist Hannah Keen is believed to have made only one mining portrait, her contribution still deserves recognition. Her father, James Keen, was Chairman of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company. The Keen family’s close connection with the industry must have provided her with an obvious source of inspiration.
Her portrait of a pit-brow girl is believed to show one of the many female surface workers who were employed at Maypole Colliery during the late nineteenth century. The portrait is also thought to show the influence of Arthur Wasse’s painting of the same subject made three years earlier and the photographs of A. J. Munby. The Coal Mines Act of 1842 banned women and girls of any age from working underground, but in a handful of coal-mining districts women were still able to work on the surface. This type of work was often referred to as pit-brow work. Between 1865 and 1867, inspectors from the Select Committee on Mines visited the coal-mining districts to gather evidence, in an attempt to exclude women from any type of surface work. In addition to the issue of wages, the main areas of opposition focussed on the supposed degrading nature of pit-brow work and the unfeminine clothing that was worn. At a time when pit-brow lasses faced strong opposition within and outside the coal industry, Keen’s greatest contribution to mining art was perhaps her recognition of the important role that women still occupied within the industry at this time.