John Tenniel

John Tenniel

English artist, cartoonist
Date of Birth: 28.02.1820
Country: Great Britain

  1. Biography of John Tenniel
  2. Early Life
  3. Career
  4. Sir John Tenniel passed away on February 25, 1914, in London.
  5. Collaboration with Lewis Carroll
  6. Illustration Techniques

Biography of John Tenniel

John Tenniel was an English artist and caricaturist, best known as the first illustrator of Lewis Carroll's books "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass". His illustrations are considered canonical today.

Early Life

John Tenniel was born on February 28, 1820, in Kensington, a central district of London. He was the youngest of three sons of John Baptist Tenniel, a descendant of French Huguenots. Tenniel's father was a fencing instructor and wanted his son to pursue a military career. However, from a young age, John Tenniel was passionate about painting and even enrolled at the Royal Academy of Arts, although he did not graduate.


In 1836, Tenniel's work was first exhibited at an art show at the Suffolk Street Gallery, and for the next five years, he regularly exhibited his works at the Royal Academy. In 1840, during a fencing training session with his father, Tenniel lost vision in his left eye. After this unfortunate incident, he stopped painting, except for a few exceptions, and focused entirely on graphic art.

Tenniel's interest in book illustration led him to debut as an illustrator for Samuel Hall's first edition of "The Book of English Ballads" in 1842. In 1845, he took part in a competition to paint frescoes in the House of Lords, presenting a monumental sketch of "The Spirit of Justice," which stood at 4.9 meters high. Although the project was not accepted, the young artist received an encouraging prize of £200 and a commission to create a fresco depicting St. Cecilia from John Dryden's works.

In December 1850, Tenniel became a regular cartoonist for the magazine "Punch". In 1865, he created illustrations for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", and in 1872, for "Through the Looking-Glass".

In 1893, John Tenniel was knighted due to the favorable attitude of Prime Minister William Gladstone. In 1901, he left "Punch".

Sir John Tenniel passed away on February 25, 1914, in London.

Collaboration with Lewis Carroll

Tenniel became acquainted with Lewis Carroll in 1864, when the book "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" had already been submitted for publication. Carroll wanted to illustrate the book himself, but his drawing skills were amateurish, so publisher Alexander Macmillan recommended that he approach John Tenniel. After reviewing the text, Tenniel agreed to create 42 illustrations, a number insisted upon by Lewis Carroll himself.

Initially, Tenniel agreed to adhere to Carroll's vision of the illustrations, but soon he changed his mind and became a full-fledged co-author of the book's design concept. For example, while Carroll's Alice resembled the real-life Alice Liddell, a dark-haired girl with a short haircut, Tenniel depicted her with long, light-colored hair, based on another girl photographed by Carroll.

Tenniel's work as a caricaturist for the leading British satirical magazine influenced the stylization of some characters as English politicians of the 19th century. He depicted the lion and the unicorn, symbols of Britain, as resembling the Conservative Prime Minister Disraeli and the Liberal leader Gladstone. The man in the paper suit who travels with Alice was traced by Tenniel from his own caricature of Benjamin Disraeli, previously published in "Punch".

Tenniel's passion for ballroom dancing also influenced his illustrations. The poses of many characters corresponded to classical ballet positions.

In Tenniel's illustrations, there were also various historical allusions. For example, the Duchess was based on Margaret Mauldash, and the distinctive medieval style of writing battle scenes was parodied in the illustration "All the King's Horses and All the King's Men".

Illustration Techniques

Tenniel created sketches of his illustrations on paper, but he made the actual drawings on wooden blocks made of boxwood. The task of engraving the blocks was entrusted to the Dalziel brothers, who were the best engravers in London at the time. Edward Dalziel handled the carving. After completing the work, he advised against printing the illustrations directly from the wooden blocks, as it would damage the unique clichés. Instead, galvanoplastic casts were made from the carved blocks, and the first edition of the book was printed from these copies.

However, neither Tenniel nor Carroll were satisfied with the print quality of the illustrations. Consequently, the entire first edition of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," except for a few copies, was destroyed. New casts were made from the printing plates, and the next edition, dated 1866, became the first widely available edition.

In 1870, Tenniel began working on illustrations for Carroll's new book, "Through the Looking-Glass." This project also involved constant disputes with Carroll. For example, the depiction of the White Knight, which Carroll considered his alter ego, eventually became a stylized self-portrait of Tenniel himself. Carroll found Tenniel's portrayal of the Jabberwocky too frightening, but after consultation with friends, it was decided to leave the image unchanged, although it was removed from the book's frontispiece.

In all subsequent editions of Carroll's books, Tenniel's illustrations were reprinted from the first edition, where the image details were reduced due to the use of galvanoplastic casts. In 1988, Macmillan Publishers released a limited edition of engravings made from the original wooden blocks. This edition, consisting of 250 copies, remains the first and only author's edition of Tenniel's illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice duology. The author's edition of John Tenniel's illustrations for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" was first exhibited in Russia by the InArtis gallery in March 2010. The exhibition took place in the Spiridonov Mansion in Moscow.