On this day in history : 25th February 1914 – The death of Sir John Tenniel – the illustrator and satirical artist known for his cartoons in Punch Magazine and illustrations in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland….

Sir John Tenniel – Self portrait c.1889 – Public domain

Tenniel was born in Bayswater, London on the 28th of February 1820…. His father, John Baptist Tenniel, was a fencing instructor and his mother, Eliza Maria Tenniel, a dancer…. He attended the Royal Academy and in 1836, at the age of just 16, submitted a piece of artwork to the Exhibition of the Society of British Artists….

At the age of 20 he was involved in a fencing accident whilst practicing with his father, which cost him the sight in his right eye…. He never let on to his father the severity of his injury – not wanting to make him feel worse than he already did….

It was in 1845 that he submitted a 16 foot cartoon as an entry to a competition for a mural design for decoration in the new Palace of Westminster…. He won a commission for a fresco in the ‘Hall of Poets’ situated in the House of Lords…. He also received £100….

His career with Punch Magazine began in 1850 – working alongside John Leech as a cartoonist, succeeding Richard (Dickie) Doyle after his resignation…. This career was to last over 50 years, gradually he was to take over completely producing the weekly satirical political contribution to the magazine….

‘Dropping the Pilot’ – commenting on the forced resignation of Otto von Bismarck from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany’s government in 1890 – one of Tenniel’s most well known cartoons for Punch – Public domain

He produced some 2,000 cartoons for Punch – and also worked on other illustration projects, such as Shirley Brooks’s ‘The Gordium Knot’ in 1860, Thomas Moore’s ‘Lalla Rookh’ in 1861 and a collaboration with John Leech and friend George Cruikshank on ‘The Ingoldsby Legends‘ in 1864….

Cartoon criticising the police for their inability to find the Whitechapel murderer….22nd September 1888 – Public domain

Tenniel married Julia Giani in 1854, the daughter of an Italian family from Liverpool…. They lived in Maida Hill – but tragically after only two years of marriage Julia was to die from tuberculosis…. Tenniel was devastated and never remarried….

It was during the 1860s that he produced the illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there’….

Carroll was notoriously fussy about the illustrations for his book and gave Tenniel a long list of instructions and requirements…. When the first 42 illustrations were submitted Carroll only liked one…. When asked to illustrate the second book Tenniel initially refused…. Carroll approached many other illustrators but none met his standards – after two and a half years of persuasion Tenniel finally agreed to illustrate ‘Through the Looking Glass’….

Even with Carroll’s stipulations Tenniel still had freedom to interpret the drawings as he visualised them – and so his style is recognisable in them…. Carroll even recalled the first edition run of his book because Tenniel was unhappy about the print quality of his drawings….

Tenniel was knighted for his artistic achievements by Queen Victoria in 1893…. He retired from Punch in 1901 and died in 1914 at the age of 93….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s