Stevens Fine Art
Phoenix, Arizona
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Joseph Pennell (1857-1926)
Joseph Pennell, painter, illustrator, etcher, lecturer, critic, author, teacher, was born in Pennsylvania, the son of Philadelphia Quaker parents and briefly attended the School of Industrial Design now called the Philadelphia College of Art. He was a pupil in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts between 1878-80, and his unusual ability in etching was early recognized by his instructor, James L. Claghorn.

In his time Pennell had "acquired no small measure of fame as a public lecturer, critic and author. He also taught at the Art Students' League. As an illustrator for a time he worked in New Orleans in collaboration with Cable, the novelist.

In 1881 he went to Europe to illustrate some of the Italian writings of W. D. Howells. There he received recognition from Philip Gilbert Hamerton who secured his services in illustrating a book on a tour along the river Seine. "The fame of his work soon brought him all the commissions he wished," and he collaborated with Henry James, Justin McCarthy and Sir Walter Besant in illustrating the "picturesque buildings and streets of London. He also collaborated with Andrew Rensselaer in portraying "the Majesty and beauty of the English cathedrals". He did so with his wife Elizabeth Robbins Pennell.

About his drawings an etchings one critic of the time said they are: "legion in number and must be seen to be appreciated [he completed over 1800 etchings and lithographs, executed mostly in Europe before 1917]. His etchings (he has destroyed all his early plates to prevent prints from worn-out plates finding their way into the market), run up into the hundreds and have an average excellence rarely maintained by a devotee of the needle, his Philadelphia, New Orleans, Italian, and London series, all have their own charm and excellence."

Another critic wrote: "Mr. Pennell invests every one of his drawings with rare mood. His skies of dawn, noon , sunset, storm, and sunshine are chosen and painted with supreme skill, making pictures of high emotional value. As an etcher Mr. Pennell is without a peer." His style was strongly influenced by James Whistler. Pennell was known for taking up causes and upon his return to the United States he took up a "strenuous fight against unsightly billboards.

His art was unique, peculiarly his own. His draftsmanship was legendary and one historian wrote: "the world produced few equals and no superior. With rare exception everything he has done has in an eminent degree, the quality of the artistic." (Brush & Palette 12:81)

He did a famous series of twenty-three lithographs of the Panama Canal that gained him much notoriety, and the Italian government has purchases for the Uffizi Gallery the originals. They also purchased his lithographs of the Grand Canyon and the Yosemite that he did while traveling in the American West in 1912 and 1915.

Pennell also did scenes of San Francisco during those trips. That was the first time lithographs were acquired for the Uffizi and conferred the distinction of the "talented American Artist." He also did lithographs for the United States and Great Britain during the war that were "high class propaganda-to stir the war spirit and to stimulate national pride."

He won numerous awards for his work including: 1st class gold medal, Paris Expo., 1900; Dresden, 1902; Grand Prize, St. Louis Expo., 1904; gold medal, Liege, 1905; Grand Prix, Milan, 1906; Barcelona, 1907; Brussels, 1910; Diplome d'Honneur, Amsterdam, 1912; 2 medals, London, 1913; Florence,1914; Commemorative medal, Florence, 1915 and others.

Joseph Pennell was elected an Associate of the National Academy in 1907, and an Academician in 1909.

Pennell was a member of the New York Etching Club and author of "Lithography and Lithographers, 1900; The Authorized Life of J. McN. Whistler (with Mrs. Pennell, 1910; and Pictures of War Work in America, 1918. He also illustrated a great number of books and was a contributor to the leading magazines of his day.

He passed away April 23rd, 1926.

Bio Courtesy of AskArt



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