Sir   John   Tenniel

(London, 28 February 1820 - 25 February 1914)

He displayed a taste for art at an early age, and had a picture on exhibition at the Gallery of British Artists while he was still a lad. He had little or no instruction. In the cartoon competition for the decoration of minster Hall, in 1845, he won a prize, and executed one of the frescos in the Palace of Westminster. His most successful work has been done in black and white. He paints only occasionally, and rarely exhibits. In 1851, he joined the staff of Punch. He has also illustrated Once a Week, Art Union publications, and The Ingoldsby Legends, Lalla Rookh.

"When Mr. Tenniel first associated himself with Punch it was thought generally that his abilities were of too classic an order for the duty he had undertaken, .... but he had too much confidence in the pictorial strength he possessed to feel that he need limit himself to a particular sphere, and hence he persevered with his pencil until in time he became inoculated, as it were, with a sense of humor which has not been subordinate to, but has served to stimulate, his graphic powers."-- Hodder's Memoir of my Time.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century and their Works, by Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton, 1879.

British illustrator, graphic humourist and political cartoonist whose work was prominent during the second half of the 19th century. Tenniel is considered important to the study of that period’s social, literary, and art histories. Tenniel was knighted by Victoria for his artistic achievements in 1893.

Tenniel is most noted for two major accomplishments: he was the principal political cartoonist for Britain’s Punch magazine for over 50 years, and he was the artist who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. [Tenniel's illustrations for the Alice books were engraved onto blocks of deal wood by the Brothers Dalziel. These engravings were then used as masters for making the electrotype copies for the actual printing of the books. The original wood blocks are now in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The first print run of 2,000 was shelved because Tenniel objected to the print quality. A new edition (the first edition was resold in America), released in December of the same year but carrying an 1866 date, was quickly printed and became an instant best-seller, securing Tenniel's lasting fame in the process. His illustrations for both books have taken their place among the most famous literary illustrations ever made. After the Carroll projects were finished, Tenniel did virtually no such work after 1872. Carroll did at some later time approach Tenniel again to undertake another project for him.]

English artist; born in London in 1820. He was almost entirely self-taught, and his first picture was exhibited while he was little more than a boy. He painted one of the frescoes in the Houses of Parliament in 1845, and produced but few pictures afterward. In 1851, he became connected as an illustrator with Punch” and contributed illustrations to that paper, in particular the weekly political cartoon. He also illustrated many Christmas and other books, including Æsop's Fables, Ingoldsby Legends, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Collier's New Encyclopedia


English humorous and satirical artist --  specially identified with Punch. He educated himself for his career, and although he became a probationer, and then a student, of the Royal Academy, he soon left the schools, where at that time there was little teaching. In 1836, he sent his first picture to the exhibition of the Society of British Artists, and in 1845, contributed a 16-ft. cartoon, “An Allegory of Justice,” to the competition, held in that year, of designs for the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. For this he received a £200 premium and a commission to paint a fresco in the Upper Waiting Hall (or “Hall of Poets”) in the House of Lords.

In spite of his tendency towards “high art,” he was already known and appreciated as a humorist, and his early companionship with Charles Keene fostered and developed his talent for scholarly caricature. At Christmas time 1850, he was invited by Mark Lemon to fill the position of joint cartoonist (with John Leech) on Punch, from which Richard Doyle, offended by the attitude adopted by the paper towards the Papal see at the time of the so-called “aggression,” had suddenly resigned. On the strength of his remarkable illustrations to Aesop's Fables, in which artistic power, humour of observation, and knowledge of animal life were equally apparent, Tenniel was selected, on Douglas Jerrold's initiative, to fill the breach, and he contributed his first drawing in the initial letter appearing on p. 224, vol. xix.

His first “cartoon” was “Lord Jack the Giant Killer”: it showed Lord John Russell, whose letter on the “aggression” had recently been published, valiantly assailing with the sword of truth and liberty Cardinal Wiseman armed with a crozier. In 1852 we find Tenniel's first superb lion, and his first obituary cartoon. Gradually he took over altogether the weekly drawing of the political “big cut,” which John Leech was happy to resign into his hands in order to restrict himself to his pictures of life and character. Leech's work consisted for the most part of farce; Tenniel's was high comedy, and not infrequently tragedy; and the freedom of the humorist heightened the severer beauties of the satirist.

When Leech died his friend continued his work alone, and except in 1864, 1868, and 1875-1876-1877-1878, during short spells of illness or holiday, he did not miss a single week. About 2300 cartoons, innumerable minor drawings, double-page cartoons for Punch's Almanac and other special numbers, and 250 designs for Punch's Pocket-books, comprise the sum of Sir John Tenniel's work for the periodical in the service of which he spent the greater portion of his life. When Tenniel retired from the service of Punch in January 1901, he received the honour of a farewell banquet (12 June), at which Mr. A. J. Balfour, then leader of the House of Commons, presided, and was supported by distinguished representatives of all that was best in English life. On that occasion Mr. Balfour's description of Tenniel as “a great artist and a great gentleman” was applauded by the press of the whole country.

The main quality of Sir John Tenniel's work is accuracy of drawing, precision of touch, grace and dignity of conception, and  --  so far as such things can be compatible --  geniality of satire. Tenniel raised the political cartoon into a classic composition, from which a sense of nobility is rarely absent. The beauty and statuesqueness of his ideal figures recall the influence, perhaps, of Cornelius and Overbeck  --  that German manner which was characteristic of many of our finer draughtsmen upon wood at the middle of the 19th century. But Tenniel's work is always original, unforced and fresh; and it never suggests, what is the fact, that the artist's work is drawn exclusively from memory, and never from the model. It may be mentioned that Tenniel's wonderful observation has been conducted, and his knowledge accumulated, literally through a single eye, the other having been lost during a fencing bout in his youth. [In 1840, Tenniel, while practicing fencing with his father, received a serious wound in his eye from his father's foil, which had accidentally lost its protective tip. Over the years Tenniel gradually lost sight in his right eye; he never told his father of the severity of the wound, as he did not wish to upset his father to any greater degree than he had been.] It was in recognition not only of his ability as an artist in black and white, but of his service in infusing good humour and good taste into one phase of political life, that a knighthood was conferred upon him on Mr. Gladstone's recommendation in 1893. [With knighthood, Tenniel elevated the social status of the black and white illustrator, and sparked a new sense of recognition of and occupational honour to his lifelong profession.]

Without pronounced political opinions of his own, Sir John Tenniel adopted in his work those of his paper, of which the Whig proclivities were to some degree softened by his pencil. The political history not of England only, but to some extent of the world, of half a century appears in Sir John Tenniel's weekly cartoons, which are dignified by a number of types invented by the artist, the classic beauty of which may be looked for in vain in kindred work by any previous cartoonist. (Take, for example, Sir John's famous picture of “Dropping the Pilot,” which appeared in Punch on 20 March 1890, xcviii. 150-151).

Public exhibitions of Sir John Tenniel's work were held in 1895, and in 1900. Sir John Tenniel is also the author of one of the mosaics, “Leonardo da Vinci,” in the South Court in the Victoria and Albert Museum: while his highly stippled water-colour drawings appeared from time to time in the exhibitions of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, of which society he was elected a member in 1874. As an illustrator on the wood-block he stands very high; his Lalla Rookh is perhaps the finest of all his work in point of conception, refinement, power and technical excellence.

On 27 February 1914, two days after his death, the Daily Graphic recalled Tenniel: "He had an influence on the political feeling of this time which is hardly measurable... While Tenniel was drawing them (his subjects), we always looked to the Punch cartoon to crystallize the national and international situation, and the popular feeling about it -- and never looked in vain." This condition of social influence resulted from the weekly publishing over a fifty year span of his political cartoons, whereby Tenniel's fame allowed for a want and need for his particular illustrative work, away from the newspaper. Tenniel became not only one of Victorian Britain’s most published illustrators, but as a Punch cartoonist he became one of the “supreme social observers” of British society, and an integral component of a powerful journalistic force. [In 1914, New York Tribune, journalist George W. Smalley referred to John Tenniel as “one of the greatest intellectual forces of his time, (who) understood social laws and political energies.”]

Public exhibitions of Sir John Tenniel's work were held in 1895 and in 1900. His highly stippled watercolour drawings appeared from time to time in the exhibitions of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, of which he had been elected a member in 1874.

Works Illustrated.
(1) Juvenile Verse and Picture Book (1846);
(2) Undine (1846);
(3) Aesop's Fables, 100 drawings (1848);
(4) Course of Time, Pollok (1857);
(5) Poets of the Nineteenth Century (1857);
(6) Poe's Works (1857);
(7) Home Affections (1858);
(8) Grave, Blair (1858);
(9) The Gordian Knot, Shirley Brooks (1860), and (10) The Silver Cord, Shirley Brooks (1861);
(11) Lalla Rookh, Moore, 69 drawings (1861);
(12) Puck on Pegasus, Cholmondeley Pennell (1863);
(13) The Arabian Nights (1863);
(14) English Sacred Poetry (1864);
(15) Legends and Lyrics (1865);
(16) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1866); (17) The Mirage of Life, 1867;
(18) Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll (1870);
    and the following in collaboration:
(19) Proverbial Philosophy, Tupper;
(20) Poems, Barry Cornwall.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26, 1911; See also John Tenniel on; and 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer; [bracket notes: excerpts from en.wikipedia].

External Links:
The Tenniel Illustrations for Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, by Sir John Tenniel. []
Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, with fourty-two illustrations by John Tenniel (1865)
English caricaturists and graphic humourists of the nineteenth century: how they illustrated and interpreted their times, p. 394, Everitt, Graham (1893)

View painter's work: Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914) [new window view]