Self-portrait, by Sir John Tenniel Pen and ink on cream wove paper, 1889
Sir John Tenniel (1820 – 1914) was a British illustrator, graphic humorist and political cartoonist whose work was prominent during the second half of England’s 19th century. Tenniel is considered important to the study of that period’s social, literary, and art histories. Tenniel is most noted for two major accomplishments: he was the principal political cartoonist for England’s Punch magazine for over 50 years, and he was the artist who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland andThrough the Looking-Glass.
The pen and ink drawing was an experiment in technique and in self-portraiture. It was drawn in 1889, and Tenniel wrote to his friend 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.’ 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!
Tenniel’s tentativeness with a new technique is expressed in the careful stippling and cross-hatching of the drawing.
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. 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.
Sources: here and here