John Frederick Tennant was a British painter of landscapes in oil and watercolour.
Tennant’s domain is one of vast rolling hills, rugged peaks and craggy drama. All brilliantly lit by the radiant haze of a shimmering sun. The mountains of North Wales are imbued with theatrical poignancy, while the River Medway beams with Italianate romance. This London lad was a poet with a brush. Observing nature in its abundant glory and elevating scenery with a sense of lyrical mysticism.
Born in Camberwell, Tennant’s early years were spent honing his draughtsmanship while undertaking gainful employment in a merchant’s office. As a ‘French Correspondent’ it’s likely that he could speak the language and probably visited the continent. One can imagine that during these excursions, he escaped to sketch while visiting various museums to study.
Throughout his career, the influence of the Old Masters is clear to see - particularly those of Italy and the Netherlands. Numerous young Victorian artists earned a side income by selling copies - often peddling them locally and displaying them in their own windows. It’s said that his father wasn’t too keen on his dreams of an artistic career but perhaps altered his opinion when his skill became evident.
Tennant was primarily self-taught but also studied for a while under the tutelage of Scottish marine painter William Anderson (1757-1837). Anderson was well-established by this time and admired for his bright nautical depictions. From his tutor, Tennant would’ve developed his colouring, as his works also exhibit a similar sense of buoyancy. Combined with his talent as a draughtsman, the young artist now ventured towards a professional career.
At the age of 24, he debuted at the Royal Academy and numerous views were captured with his brush. From the vistas of Wales to the Surrey Hills and Thames environs. Between 1863 and 1869, he was living in Richmond, Surrey, a popular haunt for Victorian luminaries.
In this work from 1841, a gentle corner of rural Scarborough is uplifted with a sprinkling of light. It was acquired by the Royal Collection.
John Frederick Tennant, Landscape With Cattle, Near Scarborough (1841)
Trawling the British Isles for the finest scenery, he also lived in Devon and Wales. Both locations blessed with vigorous uplands and striking coasts. The sublimity of nature calling the artist towards it. Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Northern France also beckoned, each captured with romantic undertones.
This impressive oeuvre led to over 400 works being shown at major London exhibitions, such as the Royal Society of British Artists (where he became its Honorary Secretary), the Royal Academy, British Institution and New Watercolour Society. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1842.
Today, as we look back across Tennant’s career, his passion for the natural world is more than evident. He represents a type of early Victorian artist that celebrated the British landscape for its overwhelming allure. His was a love affair with a beguiling mistress, tugging at the heartstrings with a celestial force.
Tennant is represented in various public collections including at museums in Blackburn, Maidstone, Manchester, Nottingham, Preston, and Wolverhampton. The Royal Collection and the Government Art Collection also hold examples.
Born in Camberwell, London.
Worked in a merchant’s office as French correspondent.
Trained under William Anderson.
Debuted at the Royal Academy with ‘Landscape and Cattle’ and ‘View on the Road to Eltham, Kent’.
Elected a member of the Royal Society of British Artists.
Lived in Richmond, Surrey.
Moved back to London.
Died in London.