Sir John Tenniel: Aspects of His Work
This study deals with the early works of the influential illustrator, Sir John Tenniel, and with the ways in which the great debate of the 1840s in favor of the creation of an English school of history painting manifested itself in his art. Indeed, the historicist revival would be the driving force behind virtually all of his artwork throughout the whole of his life, including the work by which he is best known, his illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
But Tenniel's long career was also a struggle between his responsiveness to popular taste and his sympathy with views on art that condemned that taste and sought to reform it. He was drawn to the Bohemian cliques of the 1840s, which were instrumental in the attempt to resurrect a school of English history painting. He played a relatively successful and prominent role in the focus of that movement, the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament. That project and his work for it raise a number of serious questions of ongoing significance - concerning the need for state patronage of art, the possibility of imposing foreign forms upon an unresponsive public, and the plausibility of the idea that art can effect social change. Many believed that the state machinery that had become necessary for the effective government of industrial culture was also necessary to ensure the survival of a vigorous art reflecting the values of that culture. Tenniel's career would seem to prove the opposite hypothesis.
After Westminster, Tenniel would transfer the cold, hierarchical imagery that he evolved there to his work as the principal political cartoonist for Punch. He held the position for nearly forty years, and he developed a style of imperial allegory that brought him immense respect and exerted an enormous influence over political cartooning at home and abroad until well into the twentieth century.
But against that didactic paternalism was a deep-rooted responsiveness to his middle-class audience and its culture. An avid amateur actor, Tenniel incorporated strong gestural and theatrical elements into his work. Above all he drew upon the conventions of visual satire. Reform theory was based on the creation of social change, and so tended to see the past as separate from the present. Satire acted as the restraining social conscience against political excess, and against change. In his satires of the medieval revival in Punch in the 1850s, Tenniel deyeloped a purely visual, gestural, historicist burlesque that parodied the revival but was also a genuine adaptation of historical forms to a contemporary context. He created a traditionalistic cosmos in which the past permeated and enriched the present - culminating in the great high satire of his Alice work; a triumph of English common sense.
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The Spirit of Justice and the Critics
The Iconography of Reform
Art and Institutions
From Reform to Empire
From Pretense to Parody
The Nature of Satire
From Punch to Alice The Tradition of Satire
Satire and Childrens Illustration
Alice and the Popular Tradition
Alice and the Tradition of 1840s Satire
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