Sir John Tenniel: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

sir john tenniel

Google Doodle and Wikimedia Commons Sir John Tenniel

Sir John Tenniel was an English illustrator most famous for his drawings in the 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the children’s tale that became world-famous. He is honored with a Google Doodle.

Tenniel was born in London, England on February 28, 1820. It would be his 200th birthday.

According to Britannica, he was an “English illustrator and satirical artist,” who was also known for his work in Punch and 1872’s Through the Looking-Glass. As Google put it, “Tenniel is one of the most highly-regarded Victorian illustrators and painters.”

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Tenniel Sent His First Picture to an Exhibition & Soon Was Hired as a Joint Cartoonist for Punch

Tenniel illustration

Tenniel attended the Royal Academy schools and, according to Britannica, in 1836, he “sent his first picture to the exhibition of the Society of British Artists.” Google notes that he was only 16 years old at this time, so his artistic talents emerged early on.

Nine years later, his 16-foot cartoon was entered in a mural decoration design contest at the new Palace of Westminster, Britannica reports, saying that he received a commission for a fresco in the House of Lords’ Hall of Poets.

This got him some attention, and five years after that, he became a joint cartoonist for Punch, which was a periodical where he would work for “most of his life,” according to Britannica.

2. Tenniel’s Artistic Style Derived From His ‘Near Photographic Memory’

Tenniel illustration

According to Google, Tenniel had a “distinctive style, due in part to his near-photographic memory.”

That’s what interested Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson. He was a professor who had come up with a new book called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He asked Tenniel to illustrate it.

After that point, they continued working together and created classic characters like the Cheshire Cat and Alice. Indeed, these characters are some of the most familiar to children throughout the world.

3. Tenniel Was Honored With a Knighthood

Tenniel illustration

Tenniel only illustrated Carroll’s books; most of his career was spent creating political cartoons for Punch.

However, his work was so powerful that he was honored with a knighthood in 1893, according to Google.

The man who created the Google Doodle, Matthew Cruickshank, told Google: “As a child, reading ‘Alice In Wonderland.’ I thought the combination of poetic writing and the hauntingly beautiful & bizarre illustrations were a perfect combination.”

According to, Carroll micromanaged Tenniel’s illustrations, even having him change Alice’s face at one point. The engravings were done with woodblocks.

4. Tenniel Was the Son of a Fencing & Dancing Master

Tenniel illustration

Tenniel was born to John Baptist Tenniel. He was a “fencing and dancing master of Huguenot descent,” according to

Tenniel’s mother was named Eliza Maria Tenniel. The site described the youthful Tenniel as “a quiet and very introverted person,” both as a child and adult.

In fact, his father’s fencing left him with a wound to his eye. He lost his eyesight in one eye after the injury while practicing with his dad. He never told his father this occurred in order to spare the man’s feelings, the site reports.

5. Tenniel’s Cartoons Dealt With the Issues of the Victorian Era

Tenniel illustration

Tenniel died on 25 February 1914. His cartoons dealt with the issues of the Victorian Era. They were “issues of working class radicalism, labour, war, economy, and other national themes,” according to Pook Press.

He was his country’s “foremost political and satirical cartoonist,” the site reports. In particular, he was negative toward Irish nationalists in his cartoons.

After he died at age 93, Daily Graphic wrote, “He had an influence on the political feeling of this time which is hardly measurable… While Tenniel was drawing them (his subjects), we always looked to the Punch cartoon to crystallize the national and international situation, and the popular feeling about it – and never looked in vain.”

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