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Sir John Tenniel
Self-portrait of John Tenniel, c. 1889
Born 28 February 1820
Died 25 February 1914 (aged 93)
Known for Illustration, Children's literature, Political cartoons
Sir John Tenniel (28 February 1820 – 25 February 1914) was an English illustrator, graphic humorist, and political cartoonist prominent in the second half of the 19th century. He was knighted for his artistic achievements in 1893. Tenniel is remembered especially as the principal political cartoonist for Punch magazine for over 50 years, and for his illustrations to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).
1 Early life
3 Early career
4.1 Influence of German Nazarenes
4.2 Eye for detail
5 Image and text in Alice
6 Book illustrations
7 Retirement and death
12 External links
John Tenniel, A Conspiracy, oil on panel, August 1850 (Private collection, UK)
Tenniel was born in Bayswater, West London, to John Baptist Tenniel, a fencing and dancing master of Huguenot descent, and Eliza Maria Tenniel. Tenniel had five siblings; two brothers and three sisters. One sister, Mary, was later to marry Thomas Goodwin Green, owner of the pottery that produced Cornishware. Tenniel was a quiet and introverted person, both as a boy and as an adult. He was content to remain firmly out of the limelight and seemed unaffected by competition or change. His biographer Rodney Engen wrote that Tenniel's "life and career was that of the supreme gentlemanly outside, living on the edge of respectability."
In 1840, Tenniel, while practising fencing with his father, received a serious eye wound 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 further.
In spite of his tendency towards high art, Tenniel was already known and appreciated as a humorist and his early companionship with Charles Keene fostered and developed his talent for scholarly caricature.
Tenniel became a student of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1842 by probation – he was admitted because he had made enough copies of classical sculptures to fill the necessary admission portfolio. So it was here that Tenniel returned to his earlier independent education.
While Tenniel's more formal training at the Royal Academy and other institutions was beneficial in nurturing his artistic ambitions, it failed in Tenniel's mind because he disagreed with the school's teaching methods, and so set about educating himself for his career. Tenniel studied classical sculptures through painting. However, he was frustrated in this because he lacked instruction in drawing. Tenniel would draw the classical statues at the London's Townley Gallery, copy illustrations from books of costumes and armour in the British Museum, and draw animals from the zoo in Regent's Park, as well as actors from London theatres, which he drew from the pits. These studies taught Tenniel to love detail, yet he became impatient in his work and was happiest when he could draw from memory. Though he was blessed with a photographic memory, it undermined his early formal training and restricted his artistic ambitions.
Another "formal" means of training was Tenniel's participation in an artists' group, free from the rules of the Academy that were stifling him. In the mid-1840s he joined the Artist's Society or Clipstone Street Life Academy, and it could be said that Tenniel first emerged as a satirical draughtsman.
Tenniel's first book illustration was for Samuel Carter Hall's The Book of British Ballads, in 1842. While engaged with his first book illustrations, various contests were taking place in London, as a way in which the government could combat the growing Germanic Nazarenes style and promote a truly national English school of art. Tenniel planned to enter the 1845 House of Lords competition amongst artists to win the opportunity to design the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. Despite missing the deadline, he submitted a 16-foot (4.9 m) cartoon, An Allegory of Justice, to a competition for 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.
The British Lion's Vengeance... in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857
As the influential result of his position as the chief cartoon artist for Punch, John Tenniel remained through satirical, often radical and at times vitriolic images of the world Britain's steadfast witness to sweeping changes in political and social reform. At Christmas 1850 he was invited by Mark Lemon to fill the position of joint cartoonist (with John Leech) on Punch, having been selected on the strength of recent illustrations to Aesop's Fables. He contributed his first drawing in the initial letter appearing on p. 224, vol. xix. This was entitled "Lord Jack the Giant Killer" and showed Lord John Russell assailing Cardinal Wiseman.
In 1861, Tenniel was offered John Leech's position at Punch, as political cartoonist, but Tenniel still maintained a sense of decorum and restraint in the heated social and political issues of the day.
His task was to follow the willful choices of his Punch editors, who probably took their cue from The Times and would have felt the suggestions of political tensions from Parliament as well. Tenniel's work could be scathing in effect. The restlessness in the issues of working-class radicalism, labour, war, economy, and other national themes were the targets of Punch, which in turn settled the nature of Tenniel's subjects. His cartoons of the 1860s popularised a portrait of the Irishman as a sub-human being, wanton in his appetites and resembling an orangutan in facial features and posture. Many of Tenniel's political cartoons expressed strong hostility to Irish Nationalism, with Fenians and Land leagues depicted as monstrous, ape-like brutes, while "Hibernia" – the personification of Ireland – was depicted as a beautiful, helpless girl threatened by such "monsters" and turning for protection to an "elder sister" in the shape of a powerful, armoured Britannia.
"An Unequal Match", his drawing published in Punch on 8 October 1881, depicted a police officer fighting a criminal with only a baton for protection, trying to put a point across to the public that policing methods needed to be changed.
When examined separately from the book illustrations he did over time, Tenniel's work at Punch alone, expressing decades of editorial viewpoints, often controversial and socially sensitive, was created to echo the voices of the British public. Tenniel drew 2,165 cartoons for Punch, a liberal and politically active publication that mirrored the Victorian public's mood for liberal social changes; thus Tenniel, in his cartoons, represented for years the conscience of the British majority.
Tenniel contributed around 2,300 cartoons, innumerable minor drawings, many double-page cartoons for Punch's Almanac and other specials, and 250 designs for Punch's Pocket-books. By 1866 he could "command ten to fifteen guineas for the reworking of a single Punch cartoon as a pencil sketch," alongside his "comfortable" Punch salary "of about £800 a year".
Caterpillar using a hookah. An illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Despite the thousands of political cartoons and hundreds of illustrative works attributed to him, much of Tenniel's fame stems from his illustrations for Alice. Tenniel drew 92 drawings for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (London: Macmillan, 1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (London: Macmillan, 1871).
Lewis Carroll originally illustrated Wonderland himself, but his artistic abilities were limited. Engraver Orlando Jewitt, who had worked for Carroll in 1859 and reviewed Carroll's drawings for Wonderland, suggested that he employ a professional. Carroll was a regular reader of Punch and therefore familiar with Tenniel, who in 1865 had long talks with Carroll before illustrating the first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Chapter 12: Alice's evidence. MS Eng 718.6 (12) Tenniel, John, Sir, 1820–1914. Studies for illustrations to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: drawings, tracings, c. 1864 from Houghton Library, Harvard University
The first print run of 2,000 was sold in the United States, rather than England, because Tenniel objected to the print quality. A new edition was released in December 1865, carrying an 1866 date, and became an instant best-seller, increasing Tenniel's fame. His drawings for both books have become some of the most famous literary illustrations. After 1872, when the Carroll projects were finished, Tenniel largely abandoned literary illustration. Carroll did later approach Tenniel to undertake another project for him. To this Tenniel replied:
It is a curious fact that with Looking-Glass the faculty of making drawings for book illustrations departed from me, and... I have done nothing in that direction since.
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 held in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. They are not usually on public display, but were exhibited in 2003.
Influence of German Nazarenes
The style associated with the Nazarene movement of the 19th century influenced many later artists, including Tenniel. It can be characterised as "shaded outlines", where the lines on the side of figures or objects are given extra thickness or drawn double to suggest shading or volume. Furthermore, this style is extremely precise, with the artist making a hard clear outline for its figures, dignifying them and the compositions, while giving restraint in expression and paleness of tone. Though Tenniel's early illustrations in the Nazarene style were not well received, his encounter with the style pointed him in a good direction.
Eye for detail
After the 1850s, Tenniel's style was modernised to incorporate more detail in backgrounds and in figures. The inclusion of background details corrected the previously weak Germanic staging of his illustrations. Tenniel's more precisely-designed illustrations depicted specific moments of time, locale and individual character instead of just generalised scenes.