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Sir John Tenniel

Sir John Tenniel, by Sir John Tenniel, 1889 -NPG 2818 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir John Tenniel

by Sir John Tenniel
Pen and ink on cream wove paper, 1889
8 1/8 in. x 5 7/8 in. (205 mm x 150 mm) overall
NPG 2818

Inscriptionback to top

Signed with monogram in ink at left of bust: ‘JTL’ and dated ‘1889’.
On reverse inscr. in pencil: ‘John Tenniel / by Himself / 1889/ No 2’.
On backing sheet (removed from frame July 1936 and now in Primary Collection Associated Items plan chest, NPG Archive):
(a) label inscr. in ink: ‘M.H. Spielmann / 21 Cadogan Gardens. / S.W.’
(b) printed label with inscr.: ‘Punch Exhibition. M. H. Spi […]’
(c) printed label with inscr.: ‘Royal Commission for the Rome Exbn. / Case No. 45 / Dicksee & Co., / Agents.’
(d) printed label with inscr.: ‘Royal Commission / International Fine-Arts Exhibition, / Rome 1911. British Section. / Name of Artist: Sir John Tenniel (The Late [sic]). / Title of work: “Portrait of himself” / Name of Owner: M.H. Spielmann Esq F.S.A. / Address: 21 Cadogan Gardens SW./ Board of Trade (Exhibitions Branch), 30 Broadway London S.W.’
(e) printed label with inscr.: ‘Academy of Arts, / Newcastle-on-Tyne / 182.. / Address for Return M.H. Spielmann / 21 C G.’
(f) printed label: ‘Board of Education, South Kensington. / Victoria and Albert Museum. / Loan Exhibition of Modern Illustration, 1900.’ and stamped ‘3098’.
(g) inscr. in ink (directly on backing sheet): ‘also / Board of Education / Victoria & Albert Museum. / 3098 / Loan Exhibition of Modern / Illustration, 1900’.
(h) inscr. in chalk: ‘883 M H Spie [...]’.

This portraitback to top

Tenniel found pen and ink work ‘irksome’ and unsatisfactory, preferring to draw with hard 6H pencils directly onto specially prepared woodblocks; these were then handed to the Swains or Dalziels for cutting. [1] In fact he and George Du Maurier were the only artists excused from the change from wood-engraving to pen and ink (for process block) at Punch in the 1890s. Tenniel’s view was that ‘Even granting the process reproduction to be an absolute fac-simile of the drawing it should still be too weak and pale, and utterly wanting in the striking effect [for cartoons].’ [2]

‘My work would be difficult to photograph on to the wood, as it is all done in pencil; the only pen-and-ink work I have done, so far, being for the almanack and pocket book,’ he explained to Marion Harry Spielmann in 1889. [3] Tenniel continued to produce pencil designs for Punch until his retirement in 1901, although from 1892 he exchanged the woodblock matrices for a specially prepared ‘Chinese-whitened surface of cardboard’, probably to reduce eyestrain. [4]

The pen and ink drawing NPG 2818 was therefore an experiment in technique and in self-portraiture. It was drawn in ?September/October 1889, some months after the interview with Spielmann in April 1889. Tenniel wrote to Spielmann, ‘I am glad to tell you – at last ! – that you shall have the portrait in a day or two. It is considered a very good likeness, but too serious. Well, taking one’s own portrait is a serious business, at any rate, I hope you will like it.’ [5] Tenniel’s enduring concern with technique is reflected in a further letter, accompanying the finished drawing:

I am very glad that you like the portrait. The thing [drawing for process] was so new to me, so entirely ‘out of my line’ that I really don’t see how I can make any charge for it; besides, I looked upon it more as an experiment, with a view to ‘process’ – than anything else, & therefore, I can only say that it will give me great pleasure if you will do me the kindness to accept the drawing as a contribution to your little ‘portrait gallery’.… Do you consider the drawing capable of reproduction by ‘process’? I have my doubts! [6]

Tenniel’s tentativeness with a new technique is expressed in the careful stippling and cross-hatching of the drawing.

Process reproductions of NPG 2818 did appear, however, in 1892 and 1895, and in a special supplement to Punch after Tenniel’s death in 1914. [7] The drawing is closely related to Tenniel’s self-portrait in oils of 1882 (Aberdeen Art Gallery, 3664). The bushy sidewhiskers characteristic of the earlier images are absent here and from other portraits of Tenniel from about this date.

John Tenniel was blinded in one eye ‘when quite young’ in a fencing accident with his father. According to his brother-in-law Leopold Martin it was the right eye. [8] This did not prevent Tenniel from posing from all angles to photographers, and indeed choosing to display his right side in the two self-portraits (1882, 1889), and in his portrait by Frank Holl, NPG 1596.

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) ‘He never took kindly to “process engraving,” because it meant pen-and-ink work, which he found irksome, though he used it with mastery, and the “process” reproduced it admirably; what he loved was the manipulation of a hard pencil on the wood-block lightly washed with white.’ Punch 1914, p.15.
2) Morris 2005, pp.116–17. Italics as given by Morris.
3) Spielmann 1895c, p.202; and Spielmann 1895a, p.464.
4) Spielmann 1895a, p.464.
5) Letter from J. Tenniel to M.H. Spielmann, Oct. 2 1889, NPG RP 2818; Morris 2005, p.12.
6) Letter from J. Tenniel to M.H. Spielmann, 19 Oct. 1889, NPG RP 2818. This and the letter of 2 Oct. 1889 were given to the Gallery by Spielmann in Jan. 1940.
7) See ‘Reproductions’.
8) L. Martin, ‘Reminiscences of John Martin’, Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, part 6, 9 Feb. 1889.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head-and-shoulders to right, eyes to left, with short hair and long curling moustache.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1981.

Provenanceback to top

Marion Harry Spielmann, purchased April 1936.

Exhibitionsback to top

Loan exhibition of Modern Illustration, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1900 (3098).

International Fine Arts Exhibition, Rome, 1911.

Academy of Arts, Newcastle-upon-Tyne [date unknown].

Punch Exhibition [date and place unknown].

Reproductionsback to top

Sambourne 1892, p.44 (process-block reproduction).

Spielmann 1895c, p.201 (process-block reproduction).

Punch 1914, p.1 (?etched on zinc by Swain).

View all known portraits for Sir John Tenniel