Sir John Tenniel
4 of 22 portraits on display in Room 28 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Extended catalogue entry
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Sir John Tenniel
by Francis Montague ('Frank') Holl
Oil on canvas, circa 1883
23 3/4 in. x 18 3/4 in. (603 mm x 476 mm)
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Inscriptionback to top
On frame, labels (removed March 1937 and now in Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive):
(a) inscr. in ink: Number 1 / John Tenniel Esq. / Frank Holl R.A. / The Three Gables / Fitzjohns Avenue NW.
(b) printed with inscr.: [...] Academy Exhibition of Works by the [ ] / [ ]Artist: Frank Holl / [ ] Work: Portrait of John [ ] / Name and Address of Owner: William Agnew Esq. / 11 Great Stanhope St.
(c) printed with inscr.: Royal Jubil [ ] / Manches [ ] / Artist: Frank Holl. / Title: John Tenniel / Owners name: William Agnew Esq., / Address: Summer Hill, Pendleton.
On stretcher, printed label with inscr. (now removed to Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive): Royal Commission for the Chicago Exhibition, 1893 / British Section. / Fine Arts. / No: 342 / Artist: The late Frank Holl R.A. / Title: Portrait of John Tenniel / Lent by: William Agnew Esq / Address: 11 Gt. Stanhope Str [ ] / Mayfair.
This portraitback to top
William Agnew and Thomas Agnew were part-proprietors of Punch from 1870, and William Agnew became chairman of the magazine in 1890. He was a great admirer of Frank Holl and sat to him for a portrait that was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1883. William Agnew also commissioned a portrait of the chief cartoonist Tenniel, and this work, now NPG 1596, was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallerys 1883 Summer Exhibition (89). Neither work is dated but they belong to the same period, around 1883. William Agnew frequently lent his portrait of Tenniel to exhibitions from his addresses at Summer Hill, Salford, and 11 Great Stanhope Street, Mayfair. 
The portrait was widely reviewed. The Art Journal thought it very vigorous, but wanting in the sense of humour which twinkles in the eye and softens the mouth of the original.  It is true that the Academy commented that it was the most striking of the portraits Holl displayed that year at the Grosvenor,  and the Magazine of Art agreed that it was the best, calling it simple and vigorous.  In a longish report on Holls 1883 Grosvenor Gallery portraits, in which it compared the artist to Frans Hals, the Athenaeum criticized Holls tendency to coarseness and roughness, and his use of a palette that was strong without richness. It nevertheless allowed that the image of Tenniel was charged with character, and therefore extremely welcome. 
Holls daughter A.M. Reynolds wrote that Agnew was one of her fathers dearest friends and staunchest admirers.  The connexion between Holl and Tenniel probably came through William Agnew, although Tenniel and Franks father, Francis Holl sen., had performed in charity theatricals together many years earlier in 1848, in aid of the Artists General Benevolent Institution. 
Sir William Agnew died in 1910. In his will he bequeathed the portrait of Tenniel by Holl to the National Portrait Gallery and, exceptionally, it was accepted outright, in Tenniels lifetime.
As recorded in the Register of applications to copy portraits, NPG 77/5, a copyist or student, H. Allan, was given permission to copy NPG 1596 between 8 October and 21 December 1921.
Footnotesback to top
1) See under Inscriptions for details of labels removed from back of frame and stretcher.
2) AJ, 1883, p.203. Indeed, apart from the droopy moustache, the subject is not immediately recognizable as John Tenniel.
3) Academy, 5 May 1883, p.316.
4) MA, 1883, p.352.
5) Athenaeum, 12 May 1883, pp.6089.
6) In her biography Reynolds implies that the Tenniel commission was painted in 1883; Reynolds 1912, p.226.
7) See All known portraits, By other artists, 1848.
Physical descriptionback to top
Almost half-length to right, head three-quarters to right, looking down slightly, with long greying moustache.
Conservationback to top
Provenanceback to top
The artist; Sir William Agnew, 1st Bt, who bequeathed it to the NPG; entered the Collection March 1911.
Exhibitionsback to top
Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1883 (89).
Royal Jubilee Exhibition, Manchester, 1887 (409).
Old Masters Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, 1889 (187).
Chicago Exhibition, British Section, Chicago, 1893 (342).
Reproductionsback to top
Morris 2005, p.84.