Glance quickly at these extraordinarily joyous illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. Which famous painter do you think painted them?
Salvador Dalí's Alice - Reinventing Illustration
The adventures of Alice in Wonderland are undoubtedly surreal, but Dalí wouldn't have been high on my interview list for potential illustrators. Wouldn't he scare the kids?
Yet in 1969 Dalí left behind the precise, photographic–realism style we're familiar with to create a riotous, colourful exploration of Lewis Carroll's themes.
Carroll’s Alice anticipated the Surrealist wonderland: dreams and paradoxes, puns and psychoanalysis, distortions of space and time."
Dalí certainly rose to the challenge of reinterpreting Alice. His 12 illustrations stretch the concept of 'illustration' to its limits. His images don't so much show us what happens in the story, as accompany and enhance it in an almost musical way.
So what lay behind this softer, more intuitive Dalí style?
Dalí: Prolific Printmaker
Dalí was certainly no stranger to book illustration. Despite his fame as a painter, he was also a prolific and accomplished printmaker - making over 1500 prints during his lifetime!
Many of these prints were used as illustrations. In the 1930s alone he made 57 prints to illustrate books by fellow Surrealists like André Breton and Paul Eluard.
Dalí's Vision of Wonderland
There's no doubt that Dalí felt an affinity for the themes of Carroll's work.
Talking about Dali's illustrations of Lewis Carroll's work, the William Bennett Gallery (responsible for digitising the images you see here) says,
This collaboration brings together arguably two of the most creative minds in Western culture, as both are considered ultimate explorers of dreams and imagination.
But the medium Dalí used - he painted the illustrations using Gouache - also allowed for a much more fluid style than his more famous oil paintings.
Always playful, it is as if in this work, Dalí found inspiration in a less cynical and controlling part of his psyche.
There is also time to take into account. And I'm not talking about the characteristic melted clock that appears in 'Mad Tea Party'.
Dalí was in his mid-sixties when he illustrated Alice and his long career resulted in a confident lightness of touch.
And then there were the other sixties, the tune-in and drop-out Sixties. What more perfect backdrop for a new, surreal and psychedelic Alice interpretation?
"[The drawings were] originally printed alongside the rise of 1960s psychedelia, we can return to examine the curious collaboration between one of the most prolific 20th-century dreamers and one of the 19th-century’s most influential fantasies."
Going down the rabbit hole with Dalí opens us to a new Alice. An Alice freed from childhood yet still inhabiting a world full of wonder.
The nuances of these wonderful illustrations, unfold only with repeated looking.
Take your time.
Want more Dalí?
Go to all my posts on Dalí.