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Background and Scope: Joseph Pennell Drawings

Some 4,700 drawings created by American artist, illustrator, printmaker, and writer Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) are preserved in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Such a large body of work from the period known as America's golden age of illustration offers researchers many opportunities to gain new insights into that era, the life of an artist, and the role of both traditional and then-new drawing media.

Pennell created the drawings, between about 1880 and 1926, for many purposes. Pennell illustrated books and magazines, developed compositions for his lithographs and etchings, and pursued personal interest and pleasure by creating images such as views seen from his own windows. Although many of the sketches appeared in publications and a number were exhibited, most of the drawings were unpublished during his lifetime. Pennell used a variety of papers and multiple drawing media including pen and ink, watercolor, wash, gouache, charcoal, pastel, pencil, crayon, and lithographic crayon. Pennell frequently drew in sketchbooks and also made series of drawings from direct observation. Many of the almost 3,400 loose sheet drawings were originally in sketchbooks, and some 1,300 images are still bound together in 42 of his original volumes.

Most of Pennell's drawings depict place-based themes and scenic views, often featuring architectural and industrial subjects that portray a rapidly changing world. Pennell collectively referred to his construction and technology images as "The Wonder of Work." Aesthetically, Pennell sought to convey the picturesque qualities in such diverse subjects as New York City skyscrapers, French cathedrals, industrial factories, and views of England and Italy. Whistler's influence is evident in Pennell's early work, before he went on to develop his own mature personal style. One of his best-known designs is for a World War I poster, called That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Earth.

The following keywords can help you explore the collection:

  • New York City
  • London
  • England
  • Venice
  • Italy
  • France
  • Skyscraper
  • War
  • Work
  • Sketchbook
Lest Liberty Perish
Lest Liberty Perish, 1918.


Joseph Pennell has been called the "Dean of American Printmaking" and "pictorial laureate of the last phase of the industrial revolution." Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennell attended the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before opening his own studio in 1880. He quickly became established as an artist and illustrator and traveled widely in the United States and Europe, based first in London (1884-1917) and then in New York City (1918-1926). Pennell was active in both fine art and commercial venues, exhibiting his work widely and also publishing his drawings and prints in books and articles authored by himself; his wife, journalist Elizabeth Robins Pennell; and such leading literary figures as Henry James and Washington Irving. The Pennells were also devotees, friends, and biographers of artist and fellow American expatriate, James McNeill Whistler.

Through Pennell's bequest of his archive, the Library received, between 1926 and 1937, an extensive collection of prints, manuscripts, books, and ephemera as well as these drawings. See the Related Resources section for additional information about the full archive.

Skip Navigation LinksThe Library of Congress >> Prints & Photographs Division >> Prints & Photographs Online Catalog >> Master Drawings (About)
May 1, 2008