Furniss, Harry (1854–1925), illustrator and caricaturist, was born 26 March 1854 in Wexford town, youngest son of James Furniss, civil engineer, originally from Hathersage, Derbyshire, and his second wife Isabella Cornelia, daughter of Eneas McKenzie, topographer, of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1864 the family moved to Dublin, where from 1865 to 1869 Furniss attended the Wesleyan Connexional School (later Wesley College) on St Stephen's Green. There his talent as a caricaturist emerged. He produced a school magazine in manuscript form, ‘The Schoolboy's Punch’. By 1870 he was contributing to the satirical magazine Zozimus, founded and edited by A. M. Sullivan (qv). He received little in the way of an institutional art education, attending the life drawing class at the RHA school only very briefly. Instead he began to work as an illustrator for the engraver George Hanlon of Grafton St., Dublin.
In the summer of 1873 he left for London, where he was to spend the greater part of his life. There he received his first commission from Florence Marryat, editor of the magazine London Society. Sketches he had made of rural life in Galway prior to his departure later appeared in the Illustrated London News, where he became a staff member in 1876. He was sent as the paper's special artist to the Chicago World Fair. In 1874 he began to contribute to the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. Initially his sketches for Punch had been rejected by the then editor, Tom Taylor; but under Taylor's successor, F. C. Burnand, he became a regular contributor in 1880 and a full staff member in 1884. He is best known for his parliamentary illustrations, such as those for Sir Henry Lucy's ‘The essence of parliament, by Toby MP’. His success lay with the speed with which he could capture the details of a scene or the appearance of an individual. His particular talent as a draughtsman was his mastery of line; his work using washes was less successful.
In March 1894 he left Punch in acrimonious circumstances to set up his own humorous weekly magazine, Lika Joko. In 1895 he merged it with William Waldorf Astor's Pall Mall Budget to form the New Budget, which, however, closed in October 1895. In the following year he began illustrating for the Daily News.
In the 1880s he had begun to work as a satirical illustrator on his own account, his main target being the Royal Academy. He held an exhibition entitled ‘An artistic joke’ at the Gainsborough Gallery in Bond St., London, in 1887. This consisted of eighty-seven large monochrome works which caricatured the leading academicians of the day and their work, as well as other artists associated with the academy. This was followed in 1890 with the book Royal Academy antics, a satirical history of the Academy, which he both wrote and illustrated. In his dedication he wrote: ‘I recommend this book to all outsiders who, like myself, dislike humbug.’ In the chapter entitled ‘The worst antic of all’, he berates the academy, which he saw as dominated by painters in oil, for its lack of recognition of the work of illustrators in black-and-white and watercolour. He also attacked the academy's negative attitude to the press, claiming that ‘the academician is in reality a member of a very exclusive club and nothing more . . . If being a member of a gigantic sale-room with the privilege of having the best place to show his own wares and sort of hall-stamp RA so that he can raise the prices of these wares, is being a benefactor to art then I've nothing further to say’ (Furniss, An artistic joke (1890), 100–01).
In 1888 he embarked on his first lecture tour around England with great success. He based his lectures on his own work and experiences, with particular reference to his parliamentary sketches and his opinions on the artistic establishment. During the 1890s he made several more tours to America, Canada, Australia, and in August 1891 to Dublin, where his unflattering comments on life in Ireland elicited some hostility in the press. In 1892 he published a travel book, Flying visits, a collection of articles recalling his impressions from one of his tours around Britain and Ireland.
Furniss also worked as a serious illustrator. In 1889 he began a long association with Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), for whom he illustrated Sylvie and Bruno. He illustrated a complete edition of the works of Charles Dickens in 1910, generally seen as his greatest achievement, followed by the complete works of Thackeray in 1911. In 1912 he wrote How and why I illustrated Thackeray. His prolific output as a writer included a number of artistic manuals, including Confessions of a caricaturist, a collection of biographical anecdotes, and a novel, Poverty Bay (1905). He wrote and illustrated Some Victorian women (1922) and Some Victorian men (1924). He also became involved in cinematography. In 1912 he worked in New York with Thomas Alva Edison, writing, directing, and acting in films. He continued this activity on his return to England in 1913. There he wrote Our lady cinema (1914), in which he set out his vision of the future of the new medium. Furniss died 14 January 1925 at his home in Hastings.
He married (1877) Marian, eldest daughter of Alfred Rogers, London manager of Whitbread Brothers felt manufacturers; they had three sons and one daughter.