John Tenniel

An anxious rabbit in a neat cross-hatched jacket and waistcoat, peering anxiously at a pocket watch, his umbrella tucked securely under his arm – illustrator John Tenniel has been bringing the White Rabbit and all the other fabulous and strange characters of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into being for generations of readers.

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Biography

An anxious rabbit in a neat cross-hatched jacket and waistcoat, peering anxiously at a pocket watch, his umbrella tucked securely under his arm – illustrator John Tenniel has been bringing the White Rabbit and all the other fabulous and strange characters of Alice in Wonderland into being for generations of readers.

Born in 1920, Tenniel trained as a fine-artist - his mural, Saint Cecilia, still hangs in The House of Lords - and had also already had success as an illustrator when he took up a position with Punch in 1850 as chief political cartoonist where his keen eye for detail made him an exceptional satirist.


The Eye Down the Rabbit Hole

Lewis Carroll was a regular reader of Punch and within its pages, he found just the clear and penetrating eye he was looking for to make his surreal world real.  It is as the original, archetypal illustrator of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass that Tenniel is now best remembered.

Alice was also the last book he illustrated, deciding after the second Alice manuscript to devote himself to his work on Punch until his retirement in 1901. In a turn of Carroll-esque eccentricity Tenniel claimed to have simply lost the knack, he said ‘It is a curious fact that with "Looking-Glass" the faculty of making drawings for book illustrations departed from me, and ... I have done nothing in that direction since.’

Precise and confident, Tenniel’s exceptional illustrations are notable for their extraordinary detail, from that dapper rabbit to curious, adult-eyed, ever-quizzical Alice herself - something he credited his to having an excellent near-photographic memory and never using models or drapery, preferring to draw from life and memory.