Joseph Pennell was born in Philadelphia. After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he worked in New Orleans as a book illustrator. He left for Europe in 1884. During his time abroad, Pennell illustrated some of the writings of William Dean Howells, and his prints of scenery, interiors, and individuals established his international reputation. He often used drawings as studies for his prints.
The artist spent most of his working life in Europe, portraying architectural subjects in etchings, pen-and-ink drawings, and lithographs. His views of cathedrals, palaces, and street scenes appeared in Century,McClure's, and Harper's magazines. Pennell also wrote several travel books in collaboration with his wife. Settling in England in the 1880s, the Pennells were part of a group of artists surrounding the American avant-garde painter James McNeill Whistler. A highly skilled etcher, Whistler had executed prints of European streets and harbors, and his work influenced Pennell's style.
During World War I, Pennell created a series of lithographs documenting the war efforts in Britain, France, and the United States, aimed at boosting morale. In other projects, he depicted the Grand Canyon and the building of the Panama Canal. An influential lecturer and critic, Pennell had written or illustrated more than one hundred books by the end of his career.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]