John Tenniel

From Academic Kids

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Tenniel's signature

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1889 Self-portrait

Sir John Tenniel (February 28, 1820February 25, 1914) was an English illustrator.

Caterpillar using a hookah.  An illustration from Alice in Wonderland
Caterpillar using a hookah. An illustration from Alice in Wonderland

He drew many topical cartoons and caricatures for Punch in the late 19th century, but is best remembered today for his illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Tenniel's influence on modern illustration can be seen in the work of gothic artists like Edward Gorey, Mark Ryden and Dame Darcy. His most obvious American counterpart would be John R. Neill, illustrator of Frank Baum's Land of Oz series.

He was born in London and 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.

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This illustration from Through the Looking Glass accompanied the poem "Jabberwocky".

When Leech died his friend continued his work alone, and except in 1864, 1868, and 1875-78, 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 (June 12), at which Mr AJ 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.

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"The Nemesis of Neglect", 1888 Punch cartoon commenting on the Jack the Ripper murders

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 artists 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. 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. 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 he 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 March 20, 1890, xcviii.)

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.

Works Illustrated

  1. Juvenile Verse and Picture Book', (1846)
  2. Undine (1846)
  3. Aesop's Fables, 100 drawings (1848)
  4. Blair's Grave (1858)
  5. Shirley Brooks's The Gordian Knot (1860)
  6. Shirley Brooks's The Silver Cord (1861)
  7. Moore's Lalla Rookh, 69 drawings (1861)
  8. Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1866)
  9. The Mirage of Life, 1867
  10. Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1870)

In collaboration

  • Pollok's Course of Time (1857)
  • Poets of the Nineteenth Century (1857)
  • Poe's Works (1857)
  1. Home Affections (1858)
  2. Cholmondeley Pennell's Puck on Pegasus (1863)
  3. The Arabian Nights (1863)
  4. English Sacred Poetry (1864)
  5. Legends and Lyrics (1865)
  6. Topper's Proverbial Philosophy
  7. Barry Cornwall's Poems, and other books

He also contributed to Once a Week, the Art Union publications, etc

External link

nl:John Tenniel ja:ジョン・テニエル


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