(1857 - 1926)
Joseph Pennell was active/lived in Pennsylvania, New York / United Kingdom. Joseph Pennell is known for etching, illustration, painting and teaching.
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Biography from the Archives of askART
Joseph Pennell, painter, illustrator, etcher, lecturer, critic, author,
teacher, was born in Pennsylvania, the son of Philadelphia
Quaker parents and briefly attended the School of Industrial Design now
called the Philadelphia College of Art. He was a pupil in the
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts between 1878-80, and his unusual
ability in etching was early recognized by his instructor, James L.
Biography from the Archives of askART
In his time Pennell had "acquired no small measure
of fame as a public lecturer, critic and author. He also taught at the
Art Students' League. As an illustrator for a time he worked in New
Orleans in collaboration with Cable, the novelist.
In 1881 he went to
Europe to illustrate some of the Italian writings of W. D. Howells.
There he received recognition from Philip Gilbert Hamerton who secured
his services in illustrating a book on a tour along the river Seine.
"The fame of his work soon brought him all the commissions he wished,"
and he collaborated with Henry James, Justin McCarthy and Sir Walter
Besant in illustrating the "picturesque buildings and streets of
London. He also collaborated with Andrew Rensselaer in portraying "the
Majesty and beauty of the English cathedrals". He did so with his wife
Elizabeth Robbins Pennell.
About his drawings an etchings one critic of
the time said they are: "legion in number and must be seen to be
appreciated [he completed over 1800 etchings and lithographs, executed
mostly in Europe before 1917]. His etchings (he has destroyed all his
early plates to prevent prints from worn-out plates finding their way
into the market), run up into the hundreds and have an average
excellence rarely maintained by a devotee of the needle, his
Philadelphia, New Orleans, Italian, and London series, all have their
own charm and excellence."
Another critic wrote: "Mr. Pennell invests
every one of his drawings with rare mood. His skies of dawn, noon ,
sunset, storm, and sunshine are chosen and painted with supreme skill,
making pictures of high emotional value. As an etcher Mr. Pennell is
without a peer." His style was strongly influenced by James Whistler.
Pennell was known for taking up causes and upon his return to the
United States he took up a "strenuous fight against unsightly
His art was
unique, peculiarly his own. His draftsmanship was legendary and one
historian wrote: "the world produced few equals and no superior. With
rare exception everything he has done has in an eminent degree, the
quality of the artistic." (Brush & Palette 12:81)
He did a famous
series of twenty-three lithographs of the Panama Canal that gained him
much notoriety, and the Italian government has purchases for the Uffizi
Gallery the originals. They also purchased his lithographs of the Grand
Canyon and the Yosemite that he did while traveling in the American
West in 1912 and 1915.
Pennell also did scenes of San Francisco during
those trips. That was the first time lithographs were acquired for the
Uffizi and conferred the distinction of the "talented American Artist."
He also did lithographs for the United States and Great Britain during
the war that were "high class propaganda-to stir the war spirit and to
stimulate national pride."
He won numerous awards for his work
including: 1st class gold medal, Paris Expo., 1900; Dresden, 1902;
Grand Prize, St. Louis Expo., 1904; gold medal, Liege, 1905; Grand
Prix, Milan, 1906; Barcelona, 1907; Brussels, 1910; Diplome d'Honneur,
Amsterdam, 1912; 2 medals, London, 1913; Florence,1914; Commemorative
medal, Florence, 1915 and others.
Joseph Pennell was elected an Associate of the
National Academy in 1907, and an Academician in 1909.
Pennell was a
member of the New York Etching Club and author of "Lithography and Lithographers, 1900; The Authorized Life of J. McN. Whistler (with
Mrs. Pennell, 1910; and Pictures of War Work in America, 1918. He also
illustrated a great number of books and was a contributor to the
leading magazines of his day.
He passed away April 23rd, 1926.
Blake Benton Fine Art
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Joseph Pennell became best known
for his illustrations and etchings, a process he began in the late
1870s. He completed over 1800 etchings and lithographs, executed
mostly in Europe before 1917. His style was strongly influenced
by James Whistler, and his technique was influenced by drawings of
Charles Reinhardt. He also wrote and illustrated nearly a hundred
books including a biography of Whistler.
Biography from the Archives of askART
Pennell was the son of
Philadelphia Quaker parents and briefly attended the School of
Industrial Design, now the Philadelphia College of Art. Between
1878 and 1880, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in
Philadelphia where his instructor, James Claghorn recognized and encouraged Pennell's etching talent.
In 1881, he went to Europe to meet with William Dean Howells, American writer, about illustrating some of Howells' Italian writings. On this trip, he also made other connections that led to commissions in London and resulted in over 1800 etchings and lithographs. He destroyed most of these plates as well as those from future trips dating to 1917 to prevent their being copied and publicly distributed.
From January 1882, he was in New Orleans for four months doing
illustrations of Louisiana for Century Magazine and for a book by George Washington Cable, The Creoles of Louisiana (1885).
1884 to 1917, Pennell lived primarily in Europe. There he made scenery
prints in many parts of the Continent, working in a variety of graphic
media. He also returned to America long enough to travel in the American West, and in 1912 and 1915, did
scenes of San Francisco, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, which along with twenty-three lithographs he did of the Panama Canal were purchased by the Italian government are in the Uffizi Gallery.
Among Pennell's recognitions are the First Class Gold Medal in the Paris Expo in 1900; Grand Prize in 1904 at the St. Louis Expo in 1904; Milan Grand Prize in 1906; the Diplome d'Honneur in Amsterdam in 1912; and the French Commemorative Medal in 1915.
"Pennell was elected an Associate of the National Academy in 1907 and an Academician in 1909, and was a member of the New York Etching Club
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
John Mahe, Encyclopedia of New Orleans Artists, 1718-1918
International Fine Print Dealers Association, http://www.ifpda.org/artist_template.cfm?id=1185
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Compiled by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier
Biography from Childs Gallery
Born in Philadelphia, PA, Pennell studied at the PAFA. He then traveled extensively on assignments as a writer-illustrator and spent many years in London. While in San Francisco in 1912, he produced a volume of etchings, drawings, and lithographs which he exhibited at Vickery, Atkins & Torrey. He returned again in 1915 for the PPIE where he was a member of the Int'l Jury of Awards. He died in Brooklyn, NY on April 23, 1926.
Member: NA (1909).
Exh: Paris Expo, 1900 (gold medal); Dresden, 1902 (Grand Prix); Louisiana Purchase Expo (St Louis), 1904; Liege, 1905 (gold medal); Milan, 1906 (Grand Prix); MM, 1926 (memorial). In: Library of Congress; Mead Art Gallery (Amherst College); Univ. of Michigan Museum; Museum of New Mexico; Akron Art Inst.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
AAA 1900-25; WWA 1918; Ben; NY Times and SF Examiner, 4-24-1926 (obits).Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here
The following information is an excerpt from a letter of D. Roger
Howlett, President of Childs Gallery in Boston, about the discrepancy
of birth dates given for Joseph Pennell (1857 and 1860).
** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
The response is supported by information from the authoritatative book about the artist, The Life and Letters of Joseph Pennell, pp. 7-8 by Elizabeth Robins Pennell.
"E. R. Pennell fully discusses the problem as follows:"
"By 1857 that fireside was in a characteristic little two story
house—red brick white shutters, white marble steps—in South 9th Street,
Number 183 changed to Number 603, near Shippen, and there on the Fourth
of July, Joseph Pennell was born. He himself was in doubt as to
the exact date of his birth. It was registered in the Orange
Street Meetinghouse, for he was a birthright member, and the
Meetinghouse burnt down long before he began to write his Adventures of
an Illustrator. At home his birthday and his country's had
been celebrated together and he therefore felt justified in continuing
to celebrate his on the Fourth of July, while 1860, judging from his
earliest adventures, he thought must be the year. What he did not
know was that the Orange Street Meeting had been merged with the Fourth
and Arch Street Meeting and that to this older Meetinghouse, before the
fire, all records had been removed from Orange Street, among them the
birth record of Joseph Pennell. This gives the date 7-4-1857,
which, in looking through old family papers, I found confirmed in a
letter from Larkin Pennell to "My Dear Sister", dated Seventh Month,
fifth, 1857: 'I am glad to inform you that Rebecca has a nice little
babe, a son…it took place yesterday about 3 o'clock P.M. so that we
have again celebrated the fourth.' "
"On July 7, 1857, E. R. Pennell reports that Larkin Pennell wrote: 'We have named him Joseph after my father.' "
"It would appear that the matter is clear that Joseph Pennell was born
July 4, 1857, but that he used July 4, 1860 most, if not all of his
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