We measured the magnetic field dependence of the critical current of high-quality Nb-based planar Josephson tunnel junctions in the presence of a controllable nonuniform field distribution. We found skewed and slowly changing magnetic diffraction patterns quite dissimilar from the Fraunhofer-like ones typical of a homogeneous field. Our findings can be well interpreted in terms of recent theoretical predictions [R. Monaco, J. Appl. Phys. 108, 033906 (2010)] for a uniform magnetic field gradient, leading to Fresnel-like magnetic diffraction patterns. We also show that Fiske resonances can be suppressed by an asymmetric magnetic field profile. © 2011 American Institute of Physics.