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1889 Self-portrait

Sir John Tenniel (28 February 1820 – 25 February 1914) was an English illustrator. He drew many topical cartoons and caricatures for Punch in the late 19th century, including his most famous political cartoon, dropping the pilot, but is best remembered today for his illustrations to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Early life

He was born in 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. Tenniel was blinded in one eye while fencing with his father in 1840.

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.



'The British Lion's Vengeance...'

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 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.

In 1857 people in India violently rebelled against British rule. The British public was outraged and took delight in bloody vengeance, including mass-killings of civilians. Punch was no different and contained illustrations such as Tenniel's "Justice" and "The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger".

Alice in Wonderland

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Caterpillar using a hookah. An illustration from Alice in Wonderland

In 1865 he illustrated the first edition of Alice in Wonderland. The first print run of 2,000 was shelved because Tenniel objected to the print quality; a new edition, 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. They were used as a model for the costumes in Paramount Pictures' Alice in Wonderland.

In Tenniel's early coloured works of Alice, her dress was blue, her white pinafore outlined in red, and she was blonde.[1] This look has, perhaps, become the classic and most widely recognized Alice in Wonderland dress in later works. Tenniel's illustrations for the 'Alice' books were engraved onto blocks of wood, to be printed in the woodcut process. 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 1885 he was earning a $7,000 annual salary for his weekly Punch cartoon[2]-- the equivalent of more than $165,000 today. Tenniel was knighted in 1893.

Political cartoons

Several 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 young girl threatened by these monsters and turning for protection to "her elder sister", the powerful armoured Britannia. His drawing of 'An unequal match', 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.

Later life

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.

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.

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' The Gordian Knot (1860)
  6. Shirley Brooks' 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. Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1870)
  11. Lewis Carroll's The Nursery "Alice" (1890)

In collaboration

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

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



External links

eu:John Tenniel it:John Tenniel he:ג'ון טניאל nl:John Tenniel pl:John Tenniel pt:John Tenniel ru:Тенниел, Джон sv:John Tenniel