Illustrator: John Tenniel (1820-1914)

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Above: The White Rabbit by John Tenniel

Let’s take a look at Victorian illustrator Sir John Tenniel. This London artist is most remembered for his Alice in Wonderland drawings, but Tenniel was also a political cartoonist and a skilful painter.

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Despite his success, he was a quiet man who kept out of the limelight. Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) gave specific descriptions and instructions to Tenniel, making his illustrations the most accurate visual depictions of Alice in Wonderland. However, the drawings are still easily recognisable as the work of Tenniel and follow his usual styles.

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The influence Tenniel had on Dodgson is illustrated by the fact that Dodgson recalled the first edition of his book, only because Tenniel expressed dissatisfaction about the quality of the printing of the pictures. Also, Dodgson dropped an entire chapter from his book on Tenniel’s suggestion. Alice in Wonderland.net

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His biographer Rodney Engen wrote that Tenniel’s “life and career was that of the supreme gentlemanly outside, living on the edge of respectability.”… In 1840 Tenniel, while practising fencing with his father, received a serious eye wound from his father’s foil, which had accidentally lost its protective tip… Tenniel became a student of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1842 by probation—he was admitted because he made several copies of classical sculptures to provide the necessary admission portfolio. So, it was here that Tenniel returned to his earlier independent education. While Tenniel’s more formal training at the Royal Academy and at other institutions was beneficial in nurturing his artistic ambitions, it failed in Tenniel’s mind because he disagreed with the school’s teaching methods, resulting in Tenniel educating himself for his career… Tenniel’s first book illustration was for Samuel Carter Hall‘s The Book of British Ballads, in 1842. While engaged with his first book illustrations, various contests were taking place in London, as a way in which the government could combat the growing Germanic Nazarenes style and promote a truly national English school of art. Tenniel planned to enter the 1845 House of Lords competition amongst artists to win the opportunity to design the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. Despite missing the deadline, he submitted 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. Wikipedia

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