Sir John Tenniel, one of the most recognizable Victorian illustrators, was born in London on February 28, 1820. The son of a dancer and a fencing instructor, Tenniel briefly attended the British Royal Academy before he began exhibiting his artwork. At the age of sixteen, he exhibited his first oil painting at the Society of British Artists, an impressive feat for an artist who was largely self taught.

When Tenniel was twenty, in 1840, a fencing accident with his father forced him to lose the sight in his right eye. A staunchly even tempered man, Tenniel did not react to the pain of the injury, so his father did not even know he had been harmed by his rapier. Undeterred by the partial loss of sight, Tenniel continued on his path as an artist, eventually becoming a beacon in the late nineteenth century world of illustration.

In 1850, Tenniel replaced Richard (Dicky) Doyle at Punch Magazine as a cartoonist, a position he held until 1864 when he replaced his friend John Leech as the principal cartoonist after his death. Steadfast in his routine, Tenniel would continue working at Punch Magazine until his retirement in 1901.

In addition to cartoons, he was also known for book illustrations, but it was his illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that truly made him a household name.

One of the distinctive characteristics about Tenniel’s artistic methods was that he would never draw from life. This detail set him far apart from his contemporaries, the Pre-Raphaelites, who believed that studying and drawing from nature was the only way to produce truthful art. Too much the product of academic training, Tenniel worked best when he referred to the techniques and images in his visual memory and drew without observation.

Tenniel lived a relatively solitary life after his wife, Julia Giani, died in 1867, two years into their marriage. He never remarried, so his mother-in-law acted as his housekeeper for twenty-three years until she died and his sister stepped in to care for him.

In 1893, Tenniel was granted a knighthood for his political cartoons at Punch, as well as for his illustrations in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

In 1900, when Tenniel was eighty, he retired as the principal cartoonist at Punch. The eyesight in his left eye was failing due to overwork, yet he still continued to paint watercolors until he went completely blind. By the time Tenniel died on February 25, 1914, he was 93 and nearly half a century had passed since Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published.