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[Joseph Pennell. Building Miraflores Lock]

Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell Collection

Graphic art, papers, and cookbook collection of Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell

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Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) launched his career as an illustrator by selling picturesque drawings of south Philadelphia to Scribner's Monthly in 1881. Following the success of his sketches in New Orleans, published in George W. Cable's book The Creoles of Louisiana (1884), he married Elizabeth Robins (1855-1936), formerly his collaborator on a Century magazine article. The couple moved to London and became friends with the American artist James McNeill Whistler. Pennell, a prolific artist and writer, experimented with new graphic techniques and sought to draw critical attention to book illustration. His wife, a well-known columnist and biographer, frequently collaborated with the artist on travel writings. The couple returned to the United States in 1917, and Pennell taught for several years at the Art Students' League in New York City. Through the Pennells' bequest, the Library acquired their collection of books, manuscripts and graphic art, some of which had been deposited as early as the 1910s. In addition, the Library was provided with a special fund for the acquisition of modern prints.

The Prints and Photographs Division has copies of virtually all of Pennell's published graphic works, approximately 1,885 prints. Included are his famous series on Philadelphia and the Panama Canal as well as "War Work in America," "War Work in England," and numerous depictions of industrial and urban scenes in Europe and America. The prints are listed in the fine prints card catalog and in American Prints in the Library of Congress: A Catalog of the Collection, (Baltimore: Published for the Library of Congress by the Johns Hopkins Press, 1970) compiled by Karen F. Beall and others. In addition, the division's copies of Louis A. Wuerth's Catalogue of the Lithographs of Joseph Pennell (Boston: Little, Brown, 1931) and Catalogue of the Etchings of Joseph Pennell (Boston: Little, Brown, 1928) are annotated to indicate collection holdings. Available upon request are several hundred original drawings, watercolors, etchings plates, books illustrated by the artist, and miscellaneous works from the Pennell's private library.

The Pennells' bequest also brought to the Library their personal papers, the papers of Mrs. Pennell's uncle Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903), and their compilation of Whistleriana -- a total of 94,000 items. An addition 2,600 items were acquired from 1969 to 1979. The Pennell papers include correspondence with publishers, art dealers, and exhibitors; letters from leading writers and artists of the period such as Ford Madox Ford, Cass Gilbert, Henry James, Auguste Rodin, and John Singer Sargent; private excahnges between the couple written during the years 1883 to 1923; and a group of 400 letters from Whistler. The papers also contain manuscripts and galley proofs for their publications, research notes for their biography The Life of James McNeill Whistler (1908), drafts for lectures, sketches, drawings, and legal papers. The Manuscript Division has prepared an unpublished finding aid for the Pennell material.

Writing extensively on gastronomy, Elizabeth Pennell amassed a large collection of European cookbooks. My Cookery Books (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1903) is a personal account of her cooking activities and describes many of the 433 volumes on cookery from the Pennell bequest in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The collection is strongest in French and Italian cookbooks from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries and includes such notable items as a fully illustrated edition of Bartolomeo Scappi's Opera (Venice: 1574). Also in the division are 299 volumes of fine printing, bibliography, and literature from the Pennell library. Many works are listed in a separate author/title card file as well as the division file.

Note: Information for this entry was compiled in the late 1970's for inclusion in: Special Collections in the Library of Congress: A Selective Guide. Compiled by Annette Melville. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980. The entry has not been revised.


U.S. Library of Congress, Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress, 1926, p. 3-5, 335-341; 1936, p. 159-160.

Crutcher, Anne. "So You Think YOUV'E Got a Lot of Cookbooks," The Washington Star, October 27, 1976: D1, D4.

U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Library. Accept Property Bequethed [sic] to United States by Josph Pennell ... Report to Accompany H.J. Res. 526 3 p. 74th Congress, 2d session. House. Rept. no. 2269.)

U.S. Library of Congress. Joseph Pennell Memorial Exhibition, Catalogue (Washington: 1927).


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  October 22, 2010
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