The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 25, 2017

February 25, 1820

You may not recognize the artist of this cat, but you have seen plenty of his work.

The legend for the this reproduction reads:

Kitty and the ball of yarn — Illustration to the first chapter of
Through the Looking Glass [1872] by John Tenniel. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels. Student assistants from the University Scholars Program, National University of Singapore, scanned this image and added text under the supervision of George P. Landow. You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the site and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.

John Tenniel (February 28, 1820 to February 25, 1914) is perhaps overshadowed by Lewis Carroll. Here are excerpts from a useful biographical source.

John Tenniel, the third son of John Baptist Tenniel (1793–1879), a dancing-master, was born in London on 28th February, 1820. His biographer, Lewis Perry Curtis, has pointed out: "Living in genteel poverty in Kensington, his parents could not afford much formal education for their six children. Tenniel, the third son, attended a local primary school and then became the pupil of his athletic father, who taught him fencing, dancing, riding, and other gentlemanly arts. At the age of twenty, while fencing with his father, the button of his opponent's foil fell off and he suffered a cut that blinded his right eye - an injury that he concealed from his father for the rest of his life in order to spare him any pangs of guilt."

Tenniel attended the Royal Academy but left in disgust at the quantity of teaching he received. When Tenniel was sixteen he began having his paintings exhibited at the Suffolk Street Galleries. He was soon recognised as a talented artist and he received several commissions, including the production of a fresco for the House of Lords.

Tenniel had some cartoons accepted by Punch Magazine and one showing Lord John Russell as David with his sword of truth attacking Cardinal Wiseman, as the Roman Catholic Goliath, upset Richard Doyle so much that he left the magazine. Mark Lemon, the editor, decided to replace Doyle with Tenniel and in December, 1850, he became a staff cartoonist with Punch. At first Tenniel was reluctant to take the post arguing that he was more concerned with "High Art". He also doubted his ability to produce humourous cartoons. He asked one friend: "Do they suppose that there is anything funny about me?"

....Tenniel was a Tory and some of his cartoons upset radicals on the staff such as Douglas Jerrold. Tenniel denied being political prejudice and claimed that "if I have my own little politics, I keep them to myself, and profess only those of the paper".

Tenniel, who was blind in one eye, had a photographic memory and never used models or photographs when drawing. He wrote: "I have a wonderful memory of observation - not for dates, but anything I see I remember. Well, I get my subject on Wednesday night; I think it out carefully on Thursday, and make my rough sketch; on Friday morning I begin, and stick to it all day, with my nose well down on the block. By means of tracing-paper I transfer my design to the wood and draw on that. Well, the block being finished, it is handed over to Swain's boy (Joseph Swain was the engraver) at about 6.30 to 7 o'clock, who has been waiting for it for an hour or so, and at 7.30 it is put in hand for engraving. That is completed on the following night, and on Monday night I receive by post the copy of next Wednesday's paper. Although I have never the courage to open the packet. I always leave it to my sister, who opens it and hands it across to me, when I just take a glance at it, and receive my weekly pang."

Where possible, he arranged meetings with the leading politicians so that he could obtain a close look at the subjects of his drawings. On one occasion he was invited to 10 Downing Street to study the face of William Gladstone. Tenniel later claimed that Gladstone disapproved of the way he was portrayed and he was "not honoured again". Tenniel, was was a strong opponent of parliamentary reform, gave Gladstone a hard time during the debate over the 1867 Reform Act.

The Conservative Party was grateful for the support John Tenniel had given them and the Marquis of Salisbury, the Prime Minister, decided to grant him a knighthood. However, before it could be announced, the Conservatives lost power. William Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party, became new Prime Minister, had obviously forgiven Tenniel and agreed to let him have his knighthood.

Lewis Perry Curtis has pointed out: "Despite their dignified quality some of Tenniel's cartoons partook of the dominant prejudices of the day. His depiction of Jews included such standard antisemitic features as the hooked nose and the dark, oily locks of the Shylock–Fagin variety... Tenniel also endowed some African chieftains or warriors with such racialized traits as thick lips and big bellies. But when it came to the Irish - especially Fenians or republican separatists wedded to physical force - he delighted in simianizing rebel Paddy. Indeed, his Fenian apemen rank among the fiercest images of political violence ever to appear in the serio-comic format. ....

As well as working on Punch, Tenniel worked as a book illustrator. He is best known for the illustrations that he did for Lewis Carroll..... Tenniel was replaced by Bernard Partridge as chief cartoonist on the journal in 1901.

More Tenniel cats:

No comments: