‘And what is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversation?’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
It would indeed be hard to imagine the Alice books without illustrations. Lewis Carroll himself illustrated the original handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground that he gifted to Alice Liddell. However for the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Carroll approached the political cartoonist for Punch, John Tenniel. Tenniel proved to be an inspired choice and his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There have shaped the perception of Alice in the popular imagination to this day, the only serious rival being the Disney animated movie Alice in Wonderland from 1951.
Although Tenniel’s illustrations are iconic, it hasn’t stopped illustrators and artists in attempting to re-imagine Alice. With the lapsing of British copyright in 1907 saw thirteen editions with newly commissioned illustrations alone. While most did little more than update the dress of Alice to reflect the looser fashions of the day, Arthur Rackham watercolours did genuinely try to break with Tenniel’s imposing precedent.
The Surrealists adopted Alice as a patron saint of the movement. In their radical re-design of the traditional playing card deck Le Jeu de Marseille, Alice is the Siren of Stars. Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning are among the many Surrealists who produced works obviously inspired by Alice. It is barely an exaggeration to suggest that Balthus‘s entire oeuvre seems to implicitly reference the Alice books. In 1969 Salvador Dali produced 12 heliogravures for the Maecenas Press edition of Alice Adventures in Wonderland, which has since become a highly collectable item.
Among the other notable 20th Century versions of the Alice books is Mervyn Peake’s rather sinister Gothic interpenetration: Ralph Steadman who brings the savage lunacy of Wonderland to the forefront and Tove Jansson’s delightfully whimsical rendition.
In the run-up to the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland there was a fresh slew of editions, the most notable being the British illustrator John Vernon Lord who also illustrated James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, a novel heavily indebted to the Alice books.
Here are some examples of Alice illustrations and other Alice inspired art work. I hope you will find them, as I do, a feast for the eyes and a chance, as Grace Slick so memorably sang, to ‘Feed Your Head’