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 John Tenniel  (1820 - 1914)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom/England      Known for: Magazine and children's book illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Sir John Tenniel (28 February 1820 – 25 February 1914) was an English 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 was born in Bayswater, west London and educated himself for his career, although he became a probationer, and then a student, of the Royal Academy. In 1836 he sent his first picture to the exhibition of the Society of British Artists, and in 1845 he contributed 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. In August 1850, Tenniel painted and exhibited at the Liverpool Academy a small panel entitled A Conspiracy that depicts Guy Fawkes and his accomplices. The gunpowder plot subject was intended to appeal to Palace of Westminster designers who were looking for scenes from British history for mural decorations.

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.

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.

As the influential result of his position as the chief cartoon artist for Punch (published 1841–1992, 1996–2002), John Tenniel, through satirical, often radical and at times vitriolic images of the world, for five decades was and remained Great Britain’s steadfast social witness to the sweeping national changes in that nation’s moment of 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. He had been selected on the strength of his recent illustrations to Aesop's Fables. He contributed his first drawing in the initial letter appearing on p. 224, vol. xix. His first cartoon was Lord Jack the Giant Killer, which showed Lord John Russell assailing Cardinal Wiseman.

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 ultimately echo the voices of the British public, and is in itself massive. Tenniel executed 2,165 separate cartoons for Punch, a liberal and politically active publication that took full advantage of the Victorian time’s mood for want of liberal social changes; thus Tenniel, in his cartoons, represented for years the conscience of the British people.

Despite the thousands of political cartoons and hundreds of illustrative works attributed to him, a measurable amount of Tenniel’s fame comes specifically from his work as the illustrator of Alice. To establish his place within the Alice canon, Tenniel drew ninety-two 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).

As the original illustrator for his book, Lewis Carroll’s own artistic inabilities, among other problems, held back Wonderland to a degree. Not until engraver Orlando Jewitt, who had done work for Carroll before in 1859 and had reviewed Carroll’s illustrations for Wonderland, had suggested employment of a professional draughtsman did Carroll look to find an outside artist. With such a reputation seemingly firm and in place for both Punch and Tenniel, it would stand to reason that the artist’s public status attracted high levels of attention and notoriety from his peers and the public; Carroll, a regular reader of Punch, knew, of course, of Tenniel. In 1865 Tenniel, after considerable talks with Carroll, illustrated the first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

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. 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 now in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. They are not usually on public display, but were exhibited in 2003.

In his career Tenniel contributed around 2,300 cartoons, innumerable minor drawings, double-page cartoons for Punch's Almanac and other special numbers, and 250 designs for Punch's Pocket-books. By 1866 he was "able to 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".

An ultimate tribute came to an elderly Tenniel as he was honored as a living national treasure and for his public service was knighted in 1893 by Queen Victoria. The first such honour ever bequeathed on an illustrator or cartoonist, his fellows saw his knighting coming as gratitude for “raising what had been a fairly lowly profession to an unprecedented level of respectability.” 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.

When he retired in January 1901, Tenniel was honoured with a farewell banquet (12 June), at which AJ Balfour, then Leader of the House of Commons, presided. Punch historian M. H. Spielmann, who knew Tenniel, understood that the political clout contained in his Punch cartoons was capable of “swaying parties and people, too... (the cartoons) exercised great influence” on the ideas of popular reform skirting throughout the British public. Early tributes as to what Tenniel in his role as a national observer meant to the British nation around the time of his death came in as high praise; 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.”

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.

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 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.

A Bayswater street, Tenniel Close, near his former studio, is named after him.

"John Tenniel", Wikipedia, (Accessed 1/18/2015)

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

The following information is from "About John Tenniel and his illustrations from Lenny's Alice in Wonderland site,

Sir John Tenniel (1820 - 1914), an English illustrator and political cartoonist for the magazine 'Punch', made the illustrations for both Alice in Wonderland books.

He got precise instructions from Charles Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll), so the Alice we all know is most certainly the Alice that Dodgson imagined. Tenniel never liked to take work from outside, and Dodgson had driven him almost crazy by providing him with so much details and instructions, so he almost turned it down when he was asked to illustrate the sequel. It was probably only his love of drawing animals that persuaded him to contemplate it at all.

The model,Alice Liddell, was not the Alice of Tenniel's pictures. Carroll sent Tenniel a photograph of Mary Hilton Badcock, another child-friend, who was the daughter of the Dean of Ripon. He recommended her as a model, but whether Tenniel accepted this advice remains a matter of dispute. The following lines from a letter Carroll wrote some time after the Alice books had been published, suggest that he probably didn't:

"Mr. Tenniel is the only artist, who has drawn for me, who has resolutely refused to use a model, and declared he no more needed one than I should need a multiplication table to work a mathematical problem! I venture to think that he was mistaken and that for want of a model, he drew several pictures of "Alice" entirely out of proportion - head decidedly too large and feet decidedly too small."

According to Rodney Engen, Tenniel's biographer, his method for creating the illustrations of the Alice books was the same as the method he used for Punch, namely preliminary pencil drawings, further drawings in 'ink and Chinese white' to simulate the wood engraver's line, then transference to the wood-block by the use of tracing paper. Then the drawings were engraved to the highest standards, in this instance by the Dalziel Brothers. Carroll appears to have ordered many (expensive!) changes to them. The final stage in the reproduction process was to make electrotype plates from the wood-engravings, using them as masters. The electrotype plates were used for the actual printing.

Because of the difficult process of creating wood-blocks involved, sometimes concessions had to be made as to the overall design of the illustration. For example, a character might be moved into a different position - which probably happened with the ape in the illustration of the Dodo with the thimble.? And, once wood had been removed, it could not be put back without a great deal of difficulty. A small number of Alice wood-blocks have had alterations or repairs made to them, that are in some cases detectable from the proofs which have been taken directly from the blocks. For example, the wood-block of the Hatter at the trial scene, the section showing the Hatter's cup with a piece bitten out, had to be repaired and re-engraved.

(Source: Edward Wakeling's paper on John Tenniel)

In 1981, the original wood-blocks were discovered in a bank vault where they had been deposited by the publisher. They are now at the British Library. (source: Jo Elwyn Jones and J. Francis Gladstone, The Alice Companion, 1998, p.252)

The following chronology of the illustrations of Alice in Wonderland is coming from Jones' and Gladstone's Alice Companion, 1998, pages 253-5:

25 January 1864:
Carroll asked Tenniel to illustrate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

5 April 1864:
Tenniel consented. The fee agreed was £138.

2 May 1864:
Carroll sent Tenniel the first piece of slip set up for Alice's Adventures

12 October 1864:
Tenniel's first drawing on wood of the White Rabbit scurrying away from Alice was inspected by Carroll and 34 illustrations were agreed

28 October 1864:
The Dalziel brothers showed Carroll's proofs of several of Tenniel's pictures. The cost for the engraving of Tenniel's plates by the Dalziels was £142 for 42 plates

May 1865:
Carroll sent the galley proofs for all the text to Tenniel so he could complete the illustrations. Forty-two illustrations were completed

June 1865:
The Clarendon Press, Oxford, printed 2000 copies of Alice's Adventures at a cost of £131

20 July 1865
Tenniel objected to the quality of this first printing and Carroll rejected it

November 1865:
Richard Clay, the new printers, achieved an edition which satisfied Tenniel and Carroll. Carroll proposed to employ them again if he wrote a second Alice

Carroll wrote to Alice that, including the People's Edition and the first translations into foreign tongues, 120,000 copies of Wonderland had sold

8 April 1868:
Carroll reported Tenniel's warning that there was 'no chance of his being able to do pictures for me until the year after next, if then. I must now try Noel Paton.'

19 May 1868:
Noel Paton urged Carroll to persist with Tenniel. So did Ruskin. Carroll, in desperation, offered to pay Punch for his time 'for the next five months' to free him to illustrate the second Alice

18 June 1868:
Tenniel made what Carroll described as a 'kind of offer to do the pictures (at such spare time as he can find)'. Tenniel hoped the illustrations would be ready by Christmas 1869

12 January 1869:
Carroll sent the first chapter of Looking-Glass to Alexander Macmillan

20 January 1870:
Carroll saw the first ten Tenniel sketches for the pictures of Looking-Glass

12 March 1870:
Carroll and Tenniel met for two hours in London to set out the plans for 30 more pictures, having already sent three to the Dalziel Brothers at Camden Press for 'cutting'

4 January 1871:
Carroll finished the manuscript of Looking-Glass

16 January 1871:
Carroll sent the completed galleys, including the Wasp incident, to Tenniel for pasting up and illustrating

March 1871:
Carroll moved the picture of the Jabberwock to the text pages and substituted the White Knight as the frontispiece

25 April 1871:
To this date, Carroll only received 27 pictures. Tenniel now hoped to complete them by July

21 November 1871:
Carroll sent authorization to Clay by telegraph to electrotype 'all the rest of the Looking-Glass. I afterwards sent two corrections by post. So ends my part of the work.'

30 November 1871:
Macmillan advised Carroll that they already had orders for 7500 copies: 9000 were to be printed and a further 6000 were ordered

6 December 1871:
Carroll received the first copy of Looking-Glass

15 December 1871:
Carroll sent the Dalziel brothers a cheque for £203.16 for the engraving

27 January 1872:
15,000 copies of the story had been sold

Tenniel agreed to supervise the colouring of 20 illustrations for The Nursery Alice. The book was colour-printed by Edward Evans, and the cover was drawn by Carroll's friend and life-drawing teacher, E. Gertrude Thomson.

?For the The Nursery Alice, 20 of his illustrations were enlarged, colorized, and some of them were even slightly redrawn. Among others, Alice's dresses were drawn with less crinoline. Dalziel's signature has been removed from all Nursery illustrations.

Some doubt has been expressed as to whether Tenniel was personally responsible for the coloring of the illustrations to The Nursery "Alice", largely because of the advertisement which appeared in the 1886 facsimile edition of Alice's Adventures Under Ground (and later in the 1887 'People's Edition' of Alice) that announced The Nursery "Alice" as "in preparation":

"Being a selection of twenty of the pictures in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland enlarged and coloured under the Artist's superintendence, with explanations." It seems likely, however, that this simply refers to Tenniel's supervision of Edward Evans' colour printing. ?

Source: Brian Sibley, "Jabberwocky", The Journal of the Lewis Carroll Society, Autumn 1975

Carroll recorded in his diary on 29 March 1885, that twenty illustrations for The Nursery "Alice" 'are now being coloured by Mr Tenniel', and by 10 July he was able to report that 'Mr Tenniel has finished the coloured pictures for The Nursery "Alice"'; although, in fact, the author was not to start the text for another three and a half years.

Source: Brian Sibley, "Jabberwocky", The Journal of the Lewis Carroll Society, Autumn 1975
Tenniel's drawings remained black and white for over 40 years until 1911, when eight prints in each book were hand colored.

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