John Tenniel. British Twice Knight
John Tenniel is one of Britain’s most famous draftsmen. At home, he is remembered first of all as an outstanding political cartoonist who worked at Punch for half a century. Outside UK, Tenniel is known and loved as the first illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.
By the way, Alice was first published on 4 July 1865.
One-eyed sharp-eyed man
son of a fencing and dancing teacher. It seemed that a military career was destined for young John. His father had already imagined his son in uniform on horseback. Moreover,
living in noble poverty,
he could not provide formal education for his 6 children. The boy turned out to be not only talented,
but also obstinate. He wanted to hold brush rather than sword in his hands. Young Tenniel entered the Royal Academy of Arts
but dropped out… he hated his painting lessons. Although,
what could they teach the young man — after all,
when he was 16,
his works were already exhibited in the prestigious gallery on Suffolk Street,
and at 25 he was commissioned to paint the Allegory of Justice fresco for the House of Lords at Westminster Palace.
His artistic talent quickly gained recognition,
and Tenniel got many orders.
A Conspiracy, oil, 1850.
Tenniel painted a picture of the famous Gunpowder Plot, which some modern historians call the first terrorist act. In the early 17th century, a group of English Catholics tried to blow up the Parliament building to destroy King James I.
However, the brilliant career was almost tragically interrupted. When John was 20 years old, his father stabbed him in the eye with his sword. It happened in training, the protective cap flew off the weapon of Tenniel Sr. Over the years, the artist was gradually blind in his right eye, but he never told his father about the seriousness of the wound, as he did not want to upset him.
The Punch BrotherhoodDespite, or perhaps because of, the vision problems, Tenniel had a phenomenal visual memory. This quality came in handy when, at the age of 30, he was invited to take up the post of cartoonist at Punch, an influential weekly magazine of humour and satire. The magazine featured Charles Dickens, Alan Milne, and J. C. Jerome. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was first published in Punch. Plus Tenniel, famous artists such as Miles Foster and Ethel Reed have collaborated with Punch. This three were nicknamed "The Punch Brotherhood". So, although Tenniel considered himself a serious artist, unable to create anything funny (He once asked his friend: "Do they think there is something funny in me?"), Punch accepted the invitation and worked for half a century in the magazine.
However, the English approach to satire is quite special: allegories and analogies, something like fables on the "news of the day". Thoughts to illustrate: a dangerous turn in politics, empty promises, a new project in Parliament, an expedition undertaken… Tenniel "knew how", had ideas on how to show the situation, and had skill!
Tenniel is said to have personally seen his potential targets. Once he was invited to 10 Downing Street so that he could examine the face of William Gladstone, the future Prime Minister of Great Britain, "the political voice of the country", as he was unofficially called. Gladstone did not like Tenniel’s caricature and he interrupted his acquaintance with the artist, but had no grudge against him. In 1893, it was William Gladstone, as prime minister, who conferred the title of knight on the 73-year-old Tenniel.
By the way, Tenniel himself appropriated this title much earlier, when he drew himself as the white knight in the book by Lewis Carroll. Carroll insisted that the artist erased the knight’s moustache, but they looked like Tenniel’s own moustache, and the artist kept them.
“The head is too big and the legs are too small”The works by Lewis Carroll (his real name was Charles Lathuage Dodgson) attract artists, just as his Alice attracts adventures. Hundreds of artists visualize the heroes of the book over and over again, even the great Salvador Dalí and Tove Jansson faced this problem. And the author of the book became the first illustrator of Alice Lewis Carroll presented the manuscript with his sketches to Alice Liddell, the prototype of the book Alice. But to illustrate the printed edition of the book, he was advised to hire a professional artist. Friends recommended contacting the famous Punch cartoonist and illustrator of several books, John Tenniel.
The maître responded to the request of the young scientist, but demanded a very substantial reward — 138 pounds. For a humble math teacher from Oxford, the sum was impressive, but the costs paid off. The drawings made in "sweat and ink" entered the golden collection of illustrations and have long been considered canonical.
When Tenniel took up the job, he was confident in his complete creative freedom. Lewis, on the other hand, decided to control everything tightly. The negotiations were carried out by correspondence, since Carroll lived in Oxford and Tenniel in London. At first, the feathers were crossed because of the girl. Carroll sent Tenniel a portrait of his little girlfriend, the prototype of Alice, and Tenniel politely retorted that he knew what the girls looked like. Thus instead of a brunette, the mathematician’s friend, Alice became a gentle blonde. Carroll once wrote in a letter to his friend: "Mr. Tenniel, the only illustrator of my books, flatly refused to draw from life. He said that he did not need it for drawing as much as I do not need a multiplication table to solve a mathematical problem! I tend to think that he was wrong and that such attitude cause disproportion of some of the drawings in Alice. The head is too big and the legs are too small."
Artist Harry Furniss recalled how Tenniel said indignantly: "Dodgson is impossible! Old bore. This arrogant mentor cannot be endured for more than a week!" The old bore was 12 years younger than the artist.
Jabberwock, out!Carroll decided to eliminate Tenniel’s Jabberwock, as it turned out to be too scary. However, after consulting with friends, he simply removed it from the cover. Whereas Tenniel threw out a whole chapter, The Bumble Bee, saying that it was outside of art, he was not attracted, and he would not be able to illustrate it.
Tenniel’s illustrations enriched the book with new meanings and added topicality. So, in the faces of the fighting Leo and the Unicorn, contemporaries guessed two famous politicians, Disraeli and Gladstone.
In the duchess, you can recognize a historical character, the famous ugly duchess, sung by Feuchwanger, namely Margarethe Maultasch. History remembers her thanks to her intelligence and ugliness, and Tenniel’s caricature resembles her portrait by Quentin Matsys. To tell the truth, the portrait itself is painfully similar to a caricature. Judge for yourself:
The last book of TennielTenniel wasn’t just picky about himself and Carroll. The victim of his perfectionism was the first edition of Alice in Wonderland. Two thousand copies printed by the Oxford Press were to be destroyed because Tenniel was not satisfied with the print quality. However, fifty copies survived: Carroll managed to send them with a dedication to his friends. 23 books are safe. One of them is scribbled in purple ink — it is believed that it belonged to Carroll himself. This book became the most expensive children’s book sold at the auction. In 1998, it was auctionned for one and a half million dollars.
By the way, Carroll eventually printed his Alice at Richard Clay’s printing house, and sold the unbound copies of the first set for scrap paper.
In Russia, the book was first published under the title "Sonya v tsarstve diva" ("Sonya in the Miracle Kingdom"). They didn’t indicate the names of the author and translator, but they retained the original illustrations by John Tenniel.
One hundred years without the artist of the AliceTenniel’s drawings are very popular to this day. Both his caricatures in Punch and everything related to his illustrations to Alice are still auctionned. Needless to say, today you can find the famous pictures in the most unexpected places!
While for Tenniel himself, the illustrations for Alice also became special. He wrote: "It's strange, after Through the Looking Glass I completely lost my ability to draw book illustrations and, despite the most tempting suggestions, haven’t done anything in this genre since then." Tenniel lived a long life — 93 years.