Saturday, March 18, 2006

Sir John Tenniel

Sir John Tenniel
John Tenniel is best known (and rightly so) for his beautiful, imaginative, definitive and absolutely perfect pen and ink illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There.

Though many illustrators have done their versions of Alice (see Lauren Harmon’s lists of Alice Illustrators, and the list of artist links on lewiscarroll.org), Tenniel remains the definitive interpretation. In my humble opinion, the only one who breaks out of Tenniel’s shadow when illustrating Alice is the great Arthur Rackham.

Tenniel has also influenced many artists and illustrators over the years, from his contemporary Victorian illustrators and cartoonists to modern “gothic” artists like Edward Gorey and Mark Ryden. (You can see my own nod to Tenniel in this cartoon from my book of Dinosaur Cartoons.)

The majority of Tenniel’s career was spent as a cartoonist and charicaturist for Punch, the British satire and humor magazine in the late 19th century. He also exhibited his work in galleries and painted a fresco in the Hall of Poets of the House of Lords.

As an illustrator, he created illustrations for a number of books including Aesop’s Fables, Undine, and Dickens’ The Haunted Man. It’s for his suberb drawings for the Alice stories, that we most treasure him though.

There are archived copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Project Gutenbeg and Through the Looking Glass: And What Alice Found There on sabian.org, but the quality of the reproductions is inexplicably poor.

You can also find some of Tenniels’ Alice illustrations at the Webmuseum, and his political cartoons, illos for The Haunted Man as well as a full Alice set on The Victorian Web and some of the color versions of the Alice images on the British Library site.

For the best reproductions, and to truly appreciate Tenniels’ beautiful work, look for Alice books that include his illustrations. There are inexpensive editions in which the quality of the images is quite high: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Modern Library Classics) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (Barnes & Noble Classics Trade Paper).

8 thoughts on “Sir John Tenniel

  1. pinto

    thank you for this elegant and useful site about the greatest designers, especially tenniel. I’m in love with him I agree with your comment : about Alice, he is the definitive interpretation.
    best regards
    katy pinto

  2. Charley Parker Post author

    Thanks, katy.

    I think my exposure to Tenniel at an early age was one of the things that prompted my interest in pen and ink drawing. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a couple of Tenniel’s drawings in shows, and his work is just beautiful.

  3. Chris Lahout

    Hello, Came across your webpage because I was interested in some info on a 1899 copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It lists John Tenniel as the illustrator and it was published by Donohue, Henneberry & Co., Dearborn Street in Chicago.

    The illustrations are primarily in black ink. Unfortunately, the young lady who received the book as a Christmas gift in 1899 was old enough to write her name well but had no respect for the gift. Fortunately, she did not write on pages 2-82, so maybe she did enjoy the illustrations.

    I don’t feel that the condition of the book would command a good price beause it was in a box in an attic for many years but the pages appear to be in good condition.

    I thought that you might be interested because the illustrations are magical.
    I could not find any further information on this edition.

  4. Jan Morgan

    I am looking at an old book of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. It was published by Donohue, Hennebery & Co, Chicago. I was curious if anyone knew the date it was published. On the first page someone wrote their name of Edith M Bailey and a date of 1899. Was it regular practice for publishers not to date?

  5. Ruth Olinghouse

    I have an old book,”Alice’s Advertures in Wonderland”, not in very good condition. It has all of the pages and cover but they are very aged. It is green with an illustration of young lady with ice skates over her shoulder and red hair on the front, and one of her skating on the spine of the book. It says “with forty-two illustrations by John Tenniel” and “Chicago, M>A> Donohue & Co., 407-429 Dearborn St. Anybody know the age?
    Ruth

  6. Anyssa

    I also have an undated copy. They type if very poorly produced. My grand mother gave to my dad about 70 years ago, but I have found the same print run with an inscription from 1920 as well. I am also curious about the publishing date as there was an original 2000 copies printed but not released in the late 1800 but they were printed in London, so this is very curious. I have many older books and most are dated, just not always int he customary places. Love to know what print run this was.

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