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Collection Drawings (Master)

About this Collection

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 Although many of the sketches appeared in publications and a number were exhibited, most of the drawings were unpublished during his lifetime.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


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.

Background and Scope: Whistler and Other Artists

The Master Drawings Collection at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division includes more than 300 drawings by more than 50 different artists spanning the 1400s to the 1900s. Common subjects include figures, landscapes, and genre scenes shown through sketches, studies, and finished works. Artists represented, chiefly from the United States and countries in Europe, include James McNeill Whistler, Charles Keene, Rockwell Kent, Leonetto Cappiello, Cândido Portinari, and Jean François Millet. For a full list of identified or attributed artists, see the index of artist names.


Among the Library's almost 40 drawings by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) are a map said to have been made when the artist was 15 years old, humorous sketches made at West Point in the early 1850s, about 20 butterfly drawings (the artist's monogram), and a superb self-portrait.

A celebrated American painter and printmaker, Whistler was a leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement, which promoted "Art for Art's Sake." His embrace of this concept extended to the titles he gave his artworks. He often referred to colors, such as Gold and Brown for a self-portrait, or musical terms, such as Nocturne for a Venetian scene, rather than direct subject references. Whistler first studied art in St. Petersburg, Russia, and at the West Point Military Academy before taking brief employment as an artist for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey where he learned etching. At the age of 21, he traveled to Europe to become a professional artist. He studied, lived, and practiced art in Paris, before moving in 1859 to London, where he stayed for most of his life. A colorful and controversial figure, Whistler moved in both avant-garde and establishment circles. Whistler took the butterfly as his personal emblem and monogram and was an influential practitioner of the aesthetic of Japonisme.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division acquired the Whistler drawings primarily from the personal collection of his friends and biographers, Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, with subsequent purchases through the Pennell Fund. The other master drawings came from many different sources, chiefly through generous donations. Two early examples are the Gardiner Greene Hubbard Collection (gift in 1898) and the George Lothrop Bradley Collection (bequest in 1919), which included master drawings as well as fine art prints.