Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Joseph Pennell became best known for his illustrations and etchings, a process he began in the late 1870s. He completed over 1,800 etchings and lithographs, executed mostly in Europe before 1917. His style was strongly influenced by James Whistler, and his technique was influenced by drawings of Charles Reinhardt. He also wrote and illustrated nearly a hundred books including a biography of Whistler.
Pennell was the son of Philadelphia Quaker parents and briefly attended the School of Industrial Design, now the Philadelphia College of Art. Between 1878 and 1880, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia where his instructor, James Claghorn recognized and encouraged Pennell's etching talent.
Among Pennell's recognitions are the First Class Gold Medal in the Paris Expo in 1900; Grand Prize in 1904 at the St. Louis Expo in 1904; Milan Grand Prize in 1906; the Diplome d'Honneur in Amsterdam in 1912; and the French Commemorative Medal in 1915.