Request Checked Items
University of Texas at Austin

Joseph and Elizabeth R. Pennell:

An Inventory of Their Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Pennell, Joseph (1857-1926) and Elizabeth R. (1855-1936)
Title: Joseph and Elizabeth R. Pennell Papers
Dates: 1832-1951
Extent: 24 boxes
Abstract: The collection contains correspondence, diaries, appointment books, documents, photographs, notebooks, clippings, and some artwork (not by Joseph Pennell). Nothing of signficance relating to the published works of the Pennells is present, nor are there any examples of Joseph Pennell's graphic art.
RLIN Record # TXRC97-A16
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-03229
Language: English
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gift, 1961
Processed by: Bob Taylor, 1997

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Joseph Pennell (1857-1926), one of America's premier etchers and illustrators, was born on July 4, 1857, to Larkin and Rebecca Barton Pennell of Philadelphia. Growing up in a quiet Quaker household as a doted-upon only child, young Joseph developed an early independence of mind and an artistic bent. By his late teens Pennell risked his parents' disapproval to pursue a career in art, and before he was 25 his energy and skill had made him a commercially successful magazine illustrator, turning out well-received renderings of American and, later, European scenes.
Elizabeth Robins (1855-1936) collaborated with Pennell on an article on Philadelphia for the Century Magazine in 1882, after her uncle Charles Godfrey Leland had suggested her in his stead. Following work with George Washington Cable and William Dean Howells in (respectively) New Orleans and Italy, Joseph Pennell returned to Philadelphia and wed Elizabeth Robins in June 1884. The young couple soon moved to London to be near the historic architecture Pennell's increasingly sought-after commissions depended upon.
Until 1917 the Pennells lived in London, Joseph etching and drawing and Elizabeth writing. Elizabeth's text often accompanied her husband's work, but she also wrote independently, including art criticism. Joseph's colorful outspokenness and Elizabeth's quiet charm won them entry into London's artistic and intellectual life, where the Pennells were part of a circle that included Edmund Gosse, James McNeill Whistler, and George Bernard Shaw.
After the Pennells returned to the United States, Joseph continued his chosen path of art, teaching, and controversy, while Elizabeth elaborated her own less-flamboyant career in letters. Following Joseph's death in the spring of 1926 Elizabeth devoted most of her energies to memorializing her late husband's life and accomplishment. The Life and Letters of Joseph Pennell was published in 1929, and, largely with her sponsorship, Louis A. Wuerth's two bibliographies of Joseph's etchings and lithographs appeared in 1928 and 1931. Elizabeth Pennell died in New York City in February 1936.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

The Joseph and Elizabeth R. Pennell papers, 1832-1951, comprise correspondence, diaries, appointment books, documents, photographs, notebooks, clippings, and some artwork (not by Joseph Pennell). The collection is grouped as it was foldered by Elizabeth Pennell in the 1920s, with additions made from items removed in 1936 from her apartment and separately arranged.
Series I contains the papers of Joseph Pennell, subdivided into a large subseries of correspondence and a much smaller group of personal papers. The second series--Elizabeth Pennell's papers--comprises some business and personal correspondence and a larger personal papers subseries containing (most significantly) her diaries. Within the overall collection the correspondence is most extensive for the period from the late 1870s to about 1887 and from 1918 until 1936, with Elizabeth's diaries covering the years between 1884 and 1917. Additionally there is a group of Barton-Pennell family correspondence covering the period 1854 to 1898.
The majority of the correspondence deals with the art and literary careers of Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell, focusing on Joseph's exhibitions, teaching, and commission work and Elizabeth's post-1926 writing career. Among the significant correspondents are George Washington Cable; the Century Company; Edmund Gosse; Philip G. Hamerton; Harper and Brothers; the Library of Congress; Little, Brown and Company; Longmans, Green and Co.; the Modern Library; Harrison S. Morris; Mariana Van Rensselaer; the William Edwin Rudge firm; and Louis A. Wuerth. A list of all correspondents in the Pennell papers is located at the end of this inventory.
The chronological and topical span of the Pennell papers presently in the Ransom Center are largely dependent upon three factors: (a.) the flooding of stored personal belongings at a London warehouse in 1917 that damaged or destroyed much of that material, (b.) the Pennells' gift of portions of their library, art, and correspondence (especially that relating to James McNeill Whistler) to the Library of Congress in the 1920s, and (c.) Elizabeth's apparent discarding of much of her own personal correspondence (both received and that sent to Joseph), keeping primarily those materials which were of use in writing her life of Joseph Pennell.
The material presently in the papers is that inherited by Edward and Frances Tinker upon Elizabeth Pennell's death and which subsequently came to the Harry Ransom Center as part of the Tinker Collection. Nothing of signficance relating to the published works of the Pennells--drafts, outlines, proofs, or similar material--is present in the collection, nor, apart from a few sketches on the margins of letters, are there any examples of Joseph Pennell's graphic art. However the Ransom Center's Art Collection holds 268 Joseph Pennell drawings, lithographs, and prints. Many of these are part of the Tinker Collection.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Joseph Pennell, 1832-1934 (bulk 1854-1926), 12 boxes
This series is arranged in two subseries: A. Correspondence, 1854-1926 (11 boxes) and B. Personal Papers, 1832-1934 (1 box).
The correspondence received by Joseph Pennell is largely professional, although much of it from the years 1878 to 1883 is personal. Most of this correspondence predates 1888 or comes from the period 1917 to 1926. Topics covered include exhibitions, commissions, and travel to New Orleans, England, France, and Italy.
Pennell's correspondence from Richard W. Gilder, W. Lewis Fraser, and A. W. Drake of the Century Company in the 1880s gives a remarkable look into the role illustration played in a major American periodical of the day. Similarly, Pennell's pivotal role in the London Daily Chronicle's 1895 experiment to bring illustration to its pages is captured in the letters he received from other illustrators taking part in that project.
Letters written by Joseph Pennell were collected by Elizabeth after his death for use in her Life and Letters of Joseph Pennell. Most of these date from about 1900 to his death, though those sent to T. Fisher Unwin are as early as 1890. Many of these letters are present as photostats or as typescript copies. Most of this correspondence deals with Pennell's professional life but much of its is laced with his own colorful asides and acerbic observations.
The Barton-Pennell family correspondence comprises groups of letters from Joseph's aunt Martha C. Barton and his great aunt Beulah Barton, together with a substantial number of letters from his father Larkin Pennell. These are mostly addressed to a youthful Joseph, but there are also courtship letters of Larkin Pennell to Rebecca A. Barton.
Joseph Pennell's personal papers preserved at the Ransom Center are fragmentary and represent only the period 1913 to 1926, apart from one childhood coloring book. The bulk of these papers deals with the loss of personal possessions to water damage in 1917, together with Pennell's involvement in the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915. Also present are a group of passports and identity cards, together with legal documents generated in settling his estate in the years between 1926 and 1933.
Series II. Elizabeth R. Pennell, 1884-1951 (bulk 1884-1935), 12 boxes
The second series comprises two subseries: A. Correspondence, 1912-1936 (5 boxes) and Personal Papers, 1884-1951 (7 boxes).
Letters received by Elizabeth Pennell in the collection--apart from an early group from Seeley & Co. filed with her husband's papers--date from the mid-1920s to 1936. The majority of this correspondence was arranged by Elizabeth Pennell by correspondent and generally deals with business--bequests to the Library of Congress, writing Life and Letters and Whistler, the Friend, as well as exhibitions of Joseph's work and royalty issues.
The Modern Library correspondence of 1926-29 captures the business style of that publisher in its earliest period, just as the Little, Brown letters of 1927-32 demonstrate all too clearly the difficulty of publishing expensive art books at the bottom of the Depression.
The correspondence collected from her apartment in 1936 had not been weeded by Elizabeth Pennell and includes more personal and avocational interests, including correspondence from Germaine Bertin, the Gypsy Lore Society, and from her half-siblings.
Elizabeth Pennell's own letters are scantily represented--one folder of letters to Joseph Jackson are present, as well as one or two to her husband. Her letters to Unwin are interfiled with her husband's in Series I. Several letters are represented in the form of drafts scattered among the papers.
The personal papers of Elizabeth Pennell are nearly as fragmentary as those of Joseph, comprising most importantly her diaries from 1884 to 1917, together with her appointment books covering the years 1904 to 1935. The diaries (which are essentially complete save for the period May 1891 to September 1898) contain extensive observations on the people and activities the Pennells were involved with in the art and literary communities of London during those years.
Drafts of articles by William M. Ivins (on Joseph Pennell) and by Sarah Shaw (on Whistler) are present, as are etchings and prints by Amelia Bauerle, Bessie M. Brewer, R. Bryden, Charles Z. Klauder, E. H. Suydam, H. Devitt Welsh, and Mason W. Zimmerman. Several notebooks, 1934-35 household bills, and her estate materials are also found in her personal papers, together with photographs of Joseph Pennell and the Bertin family. Several of the appointment books and diaries in boxes 18 through 22 have had materials withdrawn for separate housing; these are starred in the Folder List.

Index Terms


Bertin, Germaine
Cable, George Washington, 1844-1925
Gosse, Edmund, 1849-1928
Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, 1834-1894
Lang, Andrew, 1844-1912
Lee, Vernon, 1856-1935
Morris, Harrison S., (Harrison Smith), 1856-1948
Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, 1855-1936
Repplier, Agnes, 1855-1950
Robinson, A. Mary F., (Agnes Mary Frances), 1857-1944
Stoker, Bram, 1847-1912
Van Rensselaer, Schuyler, Mrs., 1851-1934
Wuerth, Louis A., (Louis August), 1871-


Century Company
Library of Congress
Little, Brown and Company
Modern Library Inc.
Seeley and Co.


Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, 1855-1936
Pennell, Joseph, 1857-1926
Artists, United States, 20th century
Authors, American, 20th century

Document Types

Christmas cards
Legal documents

Folder List