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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 1832-1951
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
Access: Open for research

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

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

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.

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.


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