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Sir John Tenniel in Special Collections

Renowned Victorian artist Sir John Tenniel was born this day 200 years ago. Tenniel was formally trained as a painter, but after accepting a job as an illustrator at the prominent English humor magazine, Punch, he found fame as a cartoonist and book illustrator. He produced thousands upon thousands of drawings for the magazine, from illustrated initial letters and titles to large full-page political cartoons, over a 50-year career (from 1850 to 1900). Later in life he remarked that there were probably only 6 monthly issues published during his tenure at Punch that didn’t contain his work. The original Tenniel cartoon from Special Collections which is shown here was published in Punch on March 2, 1867.

Tenniel is best remembered today as the illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1866). Carroll had been impressed with Tenniel’s contributions to an 1848 edition of Aesop’s Fables, and asked him to illustrate the book. Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1872), have become virtually inseparable from the text.

Tenniel was knighted in 1893, the first such award for an illustrator. After his retirement from Punch, he continued to paint and draw until his sight failed. He died in 1914, aged 94. Special Collections contains many Tenniel treasures, from original sketches and cartoons to published drawings (such as the first editions of the Alice books and a complete run of Punch and the Punch almanacs). They can be found by searching the library catalog with the author term “Tenniel, John, 1820-1914 illustrator.”

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