Digital Commonwealth

Joseph Pennell (1857-1926). Prints and Drawings

Boston Public Library

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Joseph Pennell (American, 1857-1926) was an illustrator, printmaker, author, and lecturer.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennell attended classes at the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art and at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. However, he was largely self-taught. Using his natural talents as a draftsman, Pennell began his artistic career as an illustrator. He became a printmaker through his acquaintance with fellow artists, first learning the technique of etching and then lithography.

In 1883, to fulfill a commission to illustrate a series of articles, Pennell traveled to Italy. That commission was the start of an extended European stay during which Pennell and his wife Elizabeth Robins Pennell lived in London and traveled widely until they returned to the United States in 1917. Together they published a number of books, which Pennell illustrated, that recount their adventures.

While living in London, the Pennells became friends with James Abbott McNeill Whistler and the artists of his circle. Whistler’s influence can be seen both in Pennell’s etchings and in his lithographs depicting the cities, monuments, and landscapes of Europe and the United States. In 1908, the Pennells published a biography of Whistler in tribute to their friend and mentor.

In addition to the prints and a drawing by Pennell that were donated to the Boston Public Library by Albert H. Wiggin, who gave his collection to the library in 1941, the library purchased a large collection of both etchings and lithographs by Pennell in 1958. The library also holds a number of the books that the Pennells published, including their biography of Whistler.

Critical funding to support long-term preservation of and enhanced public access to Boston Public Library collections, including this one, was provided by the Associates of the Boston Public Library.

Critical funding to support long-term preservation of and enhanced public access to Boston Public Library collections, including this one, was provided by the Associates of the Boston Public Library.

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