While Joseph Pennell (American, 1857-1926) is perhaps best known for his labor themed images of soaring New York skyscrapers and the urban industrial landscape, the artist spent most of his career as a distinguished travel writer and illustrator. Pennell and his wife, columnist Elizabeth Robins Pennell, shared a passion for adventure and frequently collaborated on travel writings. Wherever they went, Elizabeth wrote and Joseph drew and etched plates. The couple lived and worked abroad for over thirty years, documenting their many journeys on paper and in print. Childs Gallery’s exhibition 'Joseph Pennell: Journeys on Paper' brings together 26 prints and drawings related to the artist’s extensive travels throughout Europe and North America.
A prolific etcher, lithographer, and illustrator from Philadelphia, Pennell studied under Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1880, he left the academy to pursue a career as an illustrator for Scribner’s, Century, Harpers, and McClure’s. A year later, Pennell received a commission from Century
to illustrate an article on Philadelphia written by his future wife, Elizabeth Robins. It was to be the first of many collaborations for the couple.
Following their marriage in 1884, the Pennells travelled to England for their honeymoon. Their first trip to Canterbury by bicycle inspired the couple to write and illustrate an amusing narrative of their journey.
The resulting book, Canterbury Pilgrimage (1885), was the first of the Pennells’ many joint travel books. They collaborated on four additional travel books in the first five years of their marriage alone: An Italian Pilgrimage (1887), Our Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1888), Two Pilgrims’ Progress from fair Florence to Eternal Rome (1887-89), and Our Journey to the Hebrides (1889). These and other travel writings by the couple were light and informative, intended to share their passion and excitement for travel with their readers. The Pennells’ early success in travel writing and illustration led to numerous commissions and further opportunities
to travel. They would spend the next 33 years living and traveling abroad.
It was during the Pennells’ early years in London that they first met the American avant-garde painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903).
A highly skilled etcher, Whistler had executed prints of European streets and harbors, and his work influenced Pennell’s style and adoption of the Aesthetic Movement’s style and philosophy. Years later, Whistler asked the Pennells to write his biography, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, which was eventually published in 1908.
Joseph Pennell: Journeys on Paper is comprised of works from Pennell’s travels to England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, New York, and Philadelphia. This includes illustrations of Swiss mountaineering for the Pennells’ article “Play and Work in the Alps” (1891), lithographs of ancient temples in Italy and Greece from Pennell’s “Land of Temples” series, etchings of famous buildings and monuments from across Europe, and a rare, experimental mezzotint of London, Wren’s City, 1909.