Sir John Tenniel – February 2020

28th February 2020 marks 200 years since the birth of the illustrator and political cartoonist, Sir John Tenniel. Although he is best known for his illustrations in Alice in Wonderland, for many years he was also one of the cartoonists for the magazine, Punch. He was knighted for his work in 1893.

Tenniel’s skills in drawing were largely self-taught. He did secure a place at the Royal Academy of Art but left dissatisfied after just a few weeks and joined the Clipstone Street Art Society.  Here he studied all aspects of drawing, copying exhibits from the British Museum and wildlife from Regent’s Park. However, he tended to draw from memory rather than from life. He also studied Fresco technique and worked on wood.

Tenniel had exhibited artwork from the age of 16, and his first published illustration was in Hall’s Book of British Ballads in 1842.

Hall, Book of British Ballads (19th Century Collection 821.04 HAL)

Page from Hall, Book of British Ballads (19th Century Collection 821.04 HAL)
Page from ‘Hall, Book of British Ballads‘ (19th Century Collection 821.04 HAL)

In 1845 Tenniel obtained a commission to paint a fresco in the Upper Waiting Hall in the Houses of Parliament after entering a contest. Part of the commission was to study fresco drawing in Munich with the other successful artists. His entry, a sixteen-foot high cartoon The Spirit of Justice, was noticed by the editor of Punch, Mark Lemon, who offered Tenniel a job as joint cartoonist in 1850.

Tenniel’s first illustration in Punch was published on 8th February 1851, depicting Lord John Russell and Cardinal Wiseman.

Page from 'Punch', Volume 20 (19th Century Collection 052 PUN)
Page from ‘Punch’, Volume 20 (19th Century Collection 052 PUN)

In 1860, Tenniel became the political cartoonist for Punch and remained working for the publication, as well as illustrating in books until he retired in 1900.

In 1864 Tenniel met Lewis Carroll. It was suggested by his publisher that Carroll used a professional illustrator on his recently written children’s story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Tenniel supplied 92 illustrations for this, as well as Carroll’s later publication Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. However, the relationship became strained and Tenniel never undertook literary illustration again.

For all his life John Tenniel lived in London. His poor eyesight as the result of a fencing accident as a child, eventually led to blindness in later years.

His knighthood was a first for an illustrator or cartoonist and brought a respectability to the profession, his legacy, the 2000 images published in Punch and 92 illustrations in Lewis Carroll’s much-loved fairy tale.

150 years of Alice in Wonderland – July 2015

Front cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922) [20th Century Collection, 823.8 CAR]

This year celebrates the 150th anniversary of jam tarts, rabbit holes, mad hatters, secret doors, tea parties and even more ‘curiouser and curiouser’ delights in Lewis Carroll’s fantasy children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Published in 1865, the tale follows Alice, a seven year old girl, who falls asleep and enters a world full of nonsense. Upon following the White Rabbit, she encounters many iconic characters whose symbolism aim to teach children lessons surrounding growing up, identity and curiosity.

Lewis Carroll is a pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Born in the village of Daresbury, Chesire, he was the eldest boy in a family of eleven children. Carroll was educated at home, until the age of twelve when he was sent to Richmond Grammar School in North Yorkshire. In 1851 he registered at Christ Church, Oxford, where he excelled at maths. He received the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship in 1855, which he continued to hold for the next twenty six years. However, he is best known as an adept storyteller; spinning new tales to entertain his friends.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was inspired by real events and a real child. The story occurred in 1862 during a river outing with Henry Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and his family. Along the journey Carroll spoke of a bored little girl called Alice who goes looking for adventure. Alice Liddell (one of three daughters on the trip) loved the story so much that she asked for it to be written down. Carroll agreed and he eventually completed the story two and a half years later.

Reproduction of a tipped-in colour plate by Gwynedd M. udson depicting the Made Hatter's tea party
Reproduction of a tipped-in colour plate by Gwynedd M. udson depicting the Made Hatter’s tea party [20th Century Collection, 823.8 CAR]

The enchanting tale has charmed both children and adults through numerous re-prints, theatre productions, film adaptations and more. Special Collections hold a version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that was published in 1922 by Hodder and Stoughton and contains twelve reproduced illustrations of highly detailed tipped-in colour plates by Gwynedd M. Hudson. Each illustration contains specific scenes from the story, including Alice receiving advice from the Caterpillar, Alice and the Queen of Hearts playing croquet, and Alice meeting the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Hudson passed away at the age of twenty six but, despite her short life, she is noted for her remarkable illustrations in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Wendy as well as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Reproduction of a tipped-in colour plate by Gwynedd M. Hudson depicting the Alice with the Caterpillar
Reproduction of a tipped-in colour plate by Gwynedd M. Hudson depicting the Alice with the Caterpillar [20th Century Collection, 823.8 CAR]