Sir John Tenniel (February 28, 1820 – February 25, 1914) was an English illustrator.
He drew many topical cartoons and caricatures for Punch in the late 19th century, including the iconic Dropping the Pilot, but is best remembered today for his illustrations in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
He was born in London and educated himself for his career, although he became a probationer, and then a student, of the Royal Academy. In 1836 he sent his first picture to the exhibition of the Society of British Artists, and in 1845 contributed a 16-foot cartoon, An Allegory of Justice, to a competition for designs for the mural decoration of the new Palace of Westminster. For this he received a £200 premium and a commission to paint a fresco in the Upper Waiting Hall (or Hall of Poets) in the House of Lords.
In spite of his tendency towards high art, he was already known and appreciated as a humorist, and his early companionship with Charles Keene fostered and developed his talent for scholarly caricature.
Tenniel was blinded in one eye while fencing with his father in 1840.
At Christmas 1850 he was invited by Mark Lemon to fill the position of joint cartoonist (with John Leech) on Punch. He had been selected on the strength of his illustrations to Aesop's Fables. He contributed his first drawing in the initial letter appearing on p. 224, vol. xix. His first cartoon was Lord Jack the Giant Killer: it showed Lord John Russell assailing Cardinal Wiseman.
In 1865 he illustrated the first edition of Alice in Wonderland. The first print run of 2,000 was shelved because Tenniel had objections over the print quality; a new edition, released in December of the same year but carrying an 1866 date, was quickly printed and became an instant best-seller, securing Tenniel's immortality in the process. Tenniel's illustrations for both books have taken their place among the most famous literary illustrations ever made. They were used as a model for the costumes in Paramount Pictures' Alice in Wonderland.
Tenniel's illustrations for the 'Alice' books were engraved onto blocks of wood, to be printed in the woodcut process. The original wood blocks are now in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. They are not usually on public display, but were exhibited in 2003.
In his career Tenniel contributed around 2300 cartoons, innumerable minor drawings, double-page cartoons for Punch's Almanac and other special numbers, and 250 designs for Punch's Pocket-books.
Several of Tenniel's political cartoons expressed strong hostility to Irish Nationalism, with Fenians and Land leagues depicted as monstrous, ape-like brutes, while "Hibernia"—the personification of Ireland—was depicted as a beautiful, helpless young girl threatend by these monsters and turning for protection to "her elder sister", the powerful armoured Brittania. Some modern critics have accused Tenniel of anti-Irish racism.
When he retired from in January 1901, Tenniel was honoured with a farewell banquet (June 12), at which AJ Balfour, then leader of the House of Commons, presided.
Public exhibitions of Sir John Tenniel's work were held in 1895 and in 1900. Sir John Tenniel is also the author of one of the mosaics, Leonardo da Vinci, in the South Court in the Victoria and Albert Museum; while his highly stippled water-colour drawings appeared from time to time in the exhibitions of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, of which he had been elected a member in 1874.