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Celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Sir John Tenniel

Posted on February 28 2020



Feb 28th 2020 celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of Sir John Tenniel, enduringly famous for his illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and its sequel, ‘Through the Looking-Glass’.

Though sometimes overshadowed by Carroll’s legacy, it is Tenniel’s phenomenal visual imagination that has permanently etched Alice and the inhabitants of Wonderland onto the consciousness of generations.

Despite being blinded in one eye during a fencing match with his father, this moustachioed and gentlemanly genius was still able to create the most brilliant cast of fantastical creatures in the history of publishing. Tenniel could hardly have guessed that his icons would be taken up by groups as disparate as The Surrealists, The Beatles, The Hippies and across all genres from Victorian magic lanterns to slasher video games.


Sir John Tenniel’s British Museum Sketchbook

A student at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts, Tenniel was determined to teach himself the finer detail of historical costume and armour so that he would be able to summon them from memory for his work. The influence of this discipline can be seen in his depictions of costume and armour in both Alice books.

The Sir John Tenniel sketchbook dates from circa 1844 and has never previously been exhibited or published. it contains 258 highly detailed drawings in pencil, watercolour and ink, taken from references in the British Museum. The sketchbook is a major new discovery and charts the early genesis of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books


The sketchbook will go display as part of the V&A’s landmark Alice exhibition, ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’, opening in London, June 2020. Some of these new Tenniel illustrations will also feature in ‘Through a Looking- Glass Darkly’ by Jake Fior, a re-imagining of Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass.’ The story includes real Victorian magic and a quest for Lewis Carroll’s own supernatural Looking-Glass which will be published May, 2020.


Alice from ‘Through the Looking-Glass‘
Detail from Tenniel Sketchbook
Knight from Tenniel Sketchbook


Knight from ‘Through the Looking-Glass’



Sketchbook featured on The Times website


Google pays homage to Tenniel on their home page




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