Illustrating Alice

John Tenniel-Through the Looking-Glass
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 FoundThere 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’

Mad Tea Party
John Tenniel-A Mad Tea Party

John Tenniel-Jabberwocky
Arthur Rackham-Rose Bushes 1907

Max Ernst-Alice in 1941
Max Ernst-Alice in 1941
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 by Dorothea Tanning 1910-2012
Dorothea Tanning-Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943
Balthus-The Street 1933
Balthus-the Street 1933

Salvador Dali-Who Stole The Tarts? 1969
Salvador Dali-Down The Rabbit Hole 1969

Mervyn Peake-Chesire Cat 1946
Ralph Steadman-Alice 1972

Down the rabbit hole
Ralph Steadman-Alice 1972

Tove Jansson-Alice In Wonderland 1966
John Vernon Lord-The Caterpillar 2009
John Vernon Lord-Cheshire Cat 2009

65 thoughts on “Illustrating Alice

  1. See also the numerous illustrations on the theme of Carroll’s Alice in Pigtails in Paint: click there on the tag ” Alice (Lewis Carroll) “.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this! My copy of Alice had the Tenniel illustrations. Unfortunately, I have lost the book, during one of my many moves. What a wonderful collection of artwork inspired by Alice. I especially like the Tannng – so strange. Thanks for putting these all in one place.

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  3. A great selection! But wow Ernst’s rendition has to be my favourite. The closer you look the more references become apparent… the rotund dodo bird/loplop at the very bottom, and if you look really closely you can even see the white rabbit’s nose in the trees in the top right. I was looking for the cheshire cat but I’ve a feeling that it is represented by the shape of a lion which is also the shape of Alice’s hat. This in reference to his other works with the lion-headed people perhaps? Such an amazing artwork!

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    1. I absolutely love Max Ernst’s work, pretty much every period. This is an excellent painting from his very productive war years that also produced The Robing of the Bride. Thank you Dec.


  4. I’m glad to have discovered some of these illustrations ! An excellent post, btw 🙂 Also very inspiring since it has made me search my own PC archives for some additional ‘Alice pics’ I had collected years ago … I had this one among them –maybe you will like it 🙂 :

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Li, unfortunately the address doesn’t show anything. I am glad you liked the post and that it inspired you, Alice is one of my favourite books and it certainly inspired lots of artists including the Surrealists.

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  5. I grew up loving the Tenniel illustrations of Alice in Wonderland and loved seeing the various illustrators here. One of my favourite artists who painted a fabulous series of the Alice story is Australian artist Charles Blackman. I am lucky to have a copy of Alice in Wonderland illustrated with his paintings.

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  6. Love, love LOVE these!! This is a real treat. Cake you have outdone yourself! Some of these I had never seen before — must look up these artists. I love the Jansson with the bats, woo hoo! These boggle the mind. I did not know Dali had the big obsession with her. Love the Tanning as well. Thanks for this awesome post, this really makes my day 🙂

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  7. If you think it is quite risqué or inappropiate you might show the other image instead.
    About your issue with my links and Google searches, maybe you could try configurating your browser a bit less strictly 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am a big fan of Tenniels illustrations as well, he pretty much set the bar at mountain level. It is interesting to see how different artists approach Alice and hopefully it included some good ideas examples.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful post Mr. Cake. Everyone loves Alice, don’t they? Would it be fair to say that most would recognize Alice by the Tenniel illustrations? It’s great to see some of the other illustrations, I really like the ones by Steadman. ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. I definitely think Alice is recognised by the Tenniel illustrations, which I love by the way. I thought it would be nice to see how other artists have represented her. Did you click on the feed your head link…. connections within connections with Steadman, which I also love.

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  9. I too have quite a collection of Alice books, I used to use them with my students, as a way of encouraging them to appreciate how stories and art bounce ideas off each other, and how stories can be interpreted in a diverse range of ways. Did you check out the Charles Blackman series mentioned above, they are quite extraordinary. Blackman also had an interest in the Surrealists.
    This is a brief article but it also mentions another rare Alice book I have in my collection by an Indigenous Australian artist Donna Leslie

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  10. This is wonderful series on Alice In Wonderland, I enjoyed your background summary. I really had no idea that Alice inspired many fine artists. I couldn’t begin to single out a favorite, I love them all.

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