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Sir John Tenniel


John Tenniel
  Born in 1820, Sir John Tenniel was one of the most renowned Victorian artists, illustrating over thirty books and producing some two thousand cartoons as the veteran political cartoonist of Punch magazine.

  A fencing accident at the age of twenty resulted the loss of sight in his left eye, but this did not impair Tenniel's talent. Essentially self-taught, he studied drawings at the British Museum, and paintings and the fresco technique in Munich.

The Dodo   Tenniel was introduced to Lewis Carroll in 1864 and agreed to create 42 black and white line illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. His process was to begin with several pencil sketches to establish the basic shapes and composition, and then to create a detailed preliminary pencil drawing, which he would adjust with tracing paper where necessary. Further adjustments or details were added with ink and Chinese white, before the final illustration was transferred, via tracing paper, onto a block of wood (generally the end grain of hard box or pear wood) for the Brothers Dalziel to carve into wood-engravings. For this last drawing on the block, Tenniel used an exceptionally hard 6H pencil, made specially for him.

Tenniel's sketches

A Mad Tea Party
  It has been reported that Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson was quite a fusspot and therefore very difficult to work with, so Tenniel was reluctant to collaborate with him again on Through the Looking Glass. Fortunately, he did; Carroll's text and Tenniel's illustrations are a perfect match and have been described as "inseparable" and "as inextricably bound together as Gilbert and Sullivan". The illustrations contain many intrinsic details to the story that are not specified in the text, for example the 10/6 price tag in the Hatter's hat, present in almost every subsequent representation of the character.

  Over the years, various artists have created their own interpretations of Tenniel's drawings, including several colourisations by artists such as Diana Stanley, Martina Selway and most notably, Harry Theaker in 1911 and Diz Wallis in 1995.

Tenniel in colour

FURTHER READING: Tenniel's Alice (1978, Harvard University Press), The Tenniel Illustrations to the Alice Books (Michael Hancher, 1986, Ohio State University Press)

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