After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Joseph Pennell worked in New Orleans etching historic landmarks and illustrating travel articles and books for American publishers. In 1884 he moved to London where he authored and illustrated numerous books (often in collaboration with his wife, the author Elizabeth Robins Pennell). He 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 was influenced while in London by the American avant-garde painter and etcher James McNeill Whistler.
Pennell moved back to the United States during World War I, during which time he 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.
Pennell produced more than 900 etchings and mezzotints and more than 600 lithographs during his life. In addition to being regarded as one of America’s most talented etchers, he also played a central role in reviving interest in printmaking (and print collecting) during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. An influential lecturer and critic, Pennell had written or illustrated more than one hundred books by the end of his career, including several books on drawing and printmaking.