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Pennell, Joseph (1857–1926), and Elizabeth Robins (1855–1936)

Joseph Pennell and Elizabeth Robins were friends of Whitman in Camden, New Jersey. Pennell was an etcher who illustrated and/or wrote more than one hundred books. Robins was a writer and collaborator with Pennell who had met Whitman in her youth in Camden.

Pennell was born in Philadelphia, and he attended Quaker schools. By 1880 he opened his own art studio. Pennell did illustrations for many well-known writers, including George Washington Cable, William Dean Howells, Washington Irving, and Henry James. Pennell and Robins were married in 1884, and the following year they produced A Canterbury Pilgrimage (1885), a collection of his sketches and her annotations. Pennell started an art criticism column for the London Star. Robins, however, soon began writing for the column and for the London Daily Chronicle as well.

Pennell's style was clearly influenced by Whistler, while his technique was influenced by Charles S. Reinhart. Together, Pennell and Robins published The Life of James McNeill Whistler (1908). Pennell later published The Whistler Journal (1921). After Pennell and Robins died, the Library of Congress acquired their estate and founded the Chalcographic Museum, which contained both the Whistler and Pennell collections.

Pennell and Robins were contemporaries of Whitman, and their work was published extensively in his lifetime. Pennell's illustrations were in many works Whitman would have read, and Whitman knew them both from contacts in the bohemian artist area of Camden in which Robins had lived and which all three artists often visited.


Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Baigell, Matthew. Dictionary of American Art. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Vol. 1. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1906.

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