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John Tenniel: Google Doodle celebrates Alice in Wonderland illustrator's 200th birthday

The artist's grotesque illustrations still captivate generations of readers more than 150 years later.

google-doodle-tenniel

Google celebrates the 200th birthday of John Tenniel, the 19th-century artist who illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Google

Look long enough at Friday's Google Doodle and a familiar smile will emerge. The unmistakable grin belongs, of course, to the Cheshire Cat, the mischievous feline who befriends Alice in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

In the Doodle, we see Alice conversing with the Cheshire Cat, who's in the branches of a tree, where in the book he appears and disappears at will. Alice is trying to navigate the topsy-turvy world she's fallen into, but she's often baffled and annoyed by the philosophical observations the cat makes, such as, "If you don't know where you are going, any road can take you there."

The grin, of course, has always stuck with us and leads Alice at one point in her adventure to ponder that she's "often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!"

The famous grin was created by John Tenniel, a prominent English illustrator and satirical artist in the 19th century. Google dedicated a Doodle that imitates Tenniel's style to the artist on his 200th birthday. Framing the Doodle are an artist's pencil and pen, apparently placed on the drawing after its completion.

Born in Bayswater, England, in 1820, Tenniel had a keen eye for detail, despite losing the sight in his right eye as a result of an 1840 fencing accident with his father. Two years later, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Arts but was frustrated that he lacked instruction in drawing, so he set about training himself by drawing classical statues in museums, copying illustrations from books and drawing animals at the zoo.

Tenniel served for more than 50 years as the principal political cartoonist at Punch, producing thousands of political cartoons for the weekly magazine. But it's mostly for his illustrations in Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) that he's still remembered by generations of readers.

Carroll had originally decorated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with his own illustrations, but recognizing his limited artistic ability, turned to Tenniel, captivated by the exaggerated characters he drew in a dark, grotesque style.

Tenniel was knighted in 1893 by Queen Victoria and retired from illustrating in 1901. He died in 1914 at the age of 93.

Friday's Doodle was created by Doodler Matthew Cruickshank, who hails from North London. Cruickshank said that as a child he found the illustrations "hauntingly beautiful and bizarre."

He said he drew inspiration from the conversations Alice had with the Cheshire Cat.

"You really can 'go' anywhere you want on the homepage, depending on what you're searching for," he told Google.

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Originally published Feb. 27, 7 p.m. PT.