Joseph Pennell was an American artist who spent most of his working life in Europe, portraying architectural subjects in etchings, pen-and-ink drawings, and lithographs. Born in Philadelphia, America in 1857, and raised by Quaker parents, Larkin Pennell and Rebecca A. Barton, when he was ten the family moved to Germantown where he attended The Friends Select School 'for six awful years, the worst of my life', a loner with few friends. Pennell spent much of the time drawing, a skill not praised in his school, but he did receive drawing lessons from James R. Lambdin.
On leaving school Pennell worked in an office of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company. His application to the new Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was rejected in 1876, instead he studied at the School of Industrial Arts by night. Expelled in 1879 - Pennell claimed for encouraging a mutiny among the students - his Professor, Charles M. Burns, who had recognised Pennell's ability, helped gain him entry to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied under Thomas Eakins and others. Pennell's talents lay in graphic arts, rather than painting, and his abrupt personality contributed to difficulties during his years at the Academy.
Pennell was determined to work as an artist and opened his own studio in 1880 (shared with a Henry R. Poore). Like his later mentor, James McNeill Whistler, he also left America for London, England, on a commission to provide illustrations for US Century magazine, and taught at Slade School of Art. He won a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle (1900), and 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. He taught also at the Art Students League of New York.
Joseph Pennell's Pictures of the Wonders of Work is a 1915 publication featuring 52 of Pennell's images, from around the world over three decades, with an introduction by the artist and detailed biographical work notes. It serves as an excellent and insightful summary of his career up to that point, and is freely available as an e-book; As is Pennell's 1925 The Adventures of an Illustrator
In a productive career as an artist, Joseph Pennell made over 1800 prints, many as illustrations for magazines and books of prominent authors. Depicting first landmarks of his native Philadelphia, USA, then travelling the globe and back recording the landscapes of South America, mainland Europe and industrial cities of his adopted English home. His distinction is as a highly talented original etcher and lithographer and illustrator, a writer, influential lecturer and critic. Young Pennell had a genius for not getting along with people yet was immediately successful in the fiercely competitive field of illustration.. Hard working with remarkable ability and specific talent for drawing, he produced a tremendous volume of highly regarded work. He offended many, but knew everybody, including the most talented
Joseph married Elizabeth Robins Pennell, a writer and fellow Philadelphian, on June 4, 1884. 'A marriage of equals and complements, bringing together two talented individuals with keen minds, ambition, and a love of work.' They had a mutual agreement to not let their marriage interfere with their work. As Elizabeth later wrote: 'After Canterbury [the publication of their first book, A Canterbury Pilgrimage in 1885] the opportunity came to test the resolution reached before our marriage, not to allow anything to interfere with his drawing and my writing. Should they call us in different directions, each must go his or her way.' The Parnells co-authored books about their travels abroad together, and while apart working, wrote many letters to each other, now kept by the University of Pennsylvania and University of Texas. After Joseph's death in 1926, Elizabeth was guardian of their estate, until it passed to the Library of Congress upon her death in 1936.