Monday, 13 February 2012

Joseph Pennell

Joseph Pennell

American writer, lithographer, etcher and illustrator.

L: Pennel at his press in his Adelphi Terrace House appartment, by John McClure Hamilton (1853-1936)
Discussing the beginning of Emile Verpilleux’s color printmaking career with Antwerp St.Jacques' tower in last posting makes it inevitable mentioning Joseph Pennell, earliest promotor and encourager of Verpilleux' work. 

R: 1902 view from the window towards St. Pauls and Waterloo Bridge. Rare double sided newspaper supplement drawn exclusively for the october 25 edition

Back in London Verpilleux’ printed works weren't received very warmly but the appreciation of this monumental and influencial writer, illustrator, etcher, lithographer, Whistler’s friend and biographer, undoubtedly must have been of great help. Pennell and his wife, writer Elisabeth Robins Pennell (1862-1952) were (in) the centre of the London art world. 
The Pennells, born and trained in the US, moved to London around 1885. Like that other great pioneering American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) some 30 years before them.
L. Rare watercolor by Pennell; view from the window.

Whistler was to stay, the Pennells returned after a 30 year stay in London to America. Some texts say 1917, others claim just before the Great War.

The couple lived in posh nr. 3 Adelphi Terrace House, Pennell had his printing Studio there, overlooking the Victoria embankment, Waterloo bridge and the Charing Cross (also named Hungerford) Railway Bridge. Directly next to Charing Cross Station. The luxury houses were designed and build by the Adams brothers some 100 years before.

R: view from the window, railway bridge and embankment.

Adelphi Terrace seen from Hungerford Railway Bridge after completion  and before construction of the Victoria Embankment

Pennell's artwork on the www. is ofcourse abundant and accessible. But here are some rarely seen examples, views from and towards Pennell’s home in the Adelphi building (demolished in 1936). He was a great admirer of Whistler and obviously was impressed with Whistlers inovation: the “Nocturne” or night view. Inspiring him creating some wonderful and very atmospheric impressions of and from this London location. 
1891 lithographic drawing by Joseph Pennel,,
engraved by J.C. Griffiths for "Black and White"  August 22 edition.

Pennell an inspiration to  David Welsh (1937-) ?
These two editions of the same plate  (below) show that Pennell enjoyed experimenting and was  a true master over his materials, press, paper, inks and plates.

 Charing Cross Bridge and Railway station seen  from the Southbank

After the departure of the Pennell's the appartment from 1919 was owned by Rolls-Royce excutive Claude Johnson (1864-1926). He died the same year as Pennell. Johnson was responsible for the creation of the legendary Spirit of Ecstasy. Her 100th birthday was celibrated 2011. 

It was modeled after Johnson's good looking secretary Eleanor Velasco Thornton in 1911. Johnson shared his secretary with Lord John Scot Montagu of Bealieu. Monty admired and shared with miss Thornton also her more feminine qualities. Traveling in the Mediteranian their ship, the SS Persia, was cowardly torpedoed without notice on December 30, 1915, sinking her and killing 300  of her 500 crew and passengers. 
Miss Thornton drowned, but Montagu survived. Driving a Rolls Royce all his life the view and sight of his mistress from behind (the steering wheel) must have been at least an ambivalent experience...........


  1. I think it was Pennel either gave him the idea or encoraged Verpilleux to begin his series of London prints. I was surprised you didn;t make more of this. But I think we must now move on!

  2. Maybe or probably he did, but please tell me what I've missed or what omissions there are. These examples by Pennell are not every day and quite rare. But all right: bravely onwards we shall go !

  3. All I will say is this: some of the subjects for the early London woodcuts are apparently borrowed from Pennell. Consequently, there isn't the intimate view of someone who after all knew London well.