EXHIBITION REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland

By: Maria Ogundele | Date 03.03.2016
The 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, is being celebrated at London’s British Library until April 2016.
Alice and the Cheshire Cat
Entering the British Library’s entrance hall can be a confusing business these days. Believing you’ve travelled down a spiralling vortex and landed with a bump inside one of Lewis Carroll’s bewildering worlds is a distinct possibility. But those feeling baffled needn’t worry, as this phenomenal transformation coincides with the library’s celebration of the first publication of Alice in Wonderland, during 1865.

Even before entering the exhibition a wonderland awaits. Within the confines of the many body morphing mirrors and other Alice related phenomena, several sizeable illustrated and illuminated panels delight the eyes with their playful scenes and bold text from the book itself; all in the name of marking the publication’s 150th anniversary.

Once inside, following the arrows instructing “Don’t go this way, go that way” visitors are lead to the section which focuses on the iconic fairy tale’s humble beginnings, against a huge playing card backdrop, referencing the ‘golden afternoon’ when Lewis Carroll first told the story to his colleague’s daughter, Alice Liddell, and her sisters during a boat trip along the River Thames, on July 4th in 1862. Mathematician and Oxford Professor, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (who wrote Alice under pen-name Lewis Carroll) bewitched the young Alice with his fairy tale.

The story made such an impression on the ten-year-old that once the party had returned to Oxford, Alice begged Carroll to write the story down for her. The author finally completed the hand-written manuscript, which included thirty-seven of his own illustrations, around two years later. The novel, entitled ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’ was presented to Alice as a Christmas present in 1864 - this original work is currently displayed at the exhibition near Lewis Carroll’s beautifully written diary from that same period. Attendees can also sneak a peek at a rare supressed early manuscript of the book containing John Tenniel’s illustrations which was withdrawn due to both the artist and author’s dissatisfaction with it. (They were both known perfectionists.)

The huge importance of the book’s visual stimuli has no doubt been a major factor in the iconic fairy tale’s timeless longevity. Since its first publication containing satirical cartoonist John Tenniel’s illustrations, generations of artists and illustrators have gone on to depict Alice and her associates in many guises often modernising or altering characters’ forms to fit their own generation’s style and mood. The following sections of the exhibition are devoted to the book’s influence over different art forms since its first publication.

Fans have seen the release of countless Alice in Wonderland inspired films since the beginning of the 20th century. One of the most famous being the Disney offering starring Kathryn Beaumont and Bill Thompson in 1951; entertainer Sammy Davis Junior and musician Ringo Starr appear in a 1985 version and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter star in director Tim Burton’s 2010 film. But one of the many highlights of the exhibition is the first movie adaption of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a silent film from 1903 by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow.

Plenty more Alice inspired memorabilia such as original drawing blocks and beautifully crafted miniature mad hatter tea party figurines are housed inside the many rows of glass cabinets lining the exhibition.

Images of Alice related illustrations and prints have been recreated by practically every famous artist known to man. Against the exhibition’s charcoal painted walls, surreal lithographs by Salvador Dali can be puzzled over, as can Joseph McHugh’s amazing psychedelic Alice posters of the 1960s. Mabel Lucie Attwell’s pretty English rose depictions of 1910 can also be marvelled at. Other arresting images include artist Mervin Peak’s creations, which although similar to Tenniel’s, take on a more exaggerated and sinister form.

Visitors are invited to play an interactive card game or take part in an interactive version of a special Alice manuscript. Fans can even play a newly created Alice inspired computer game made by winners of the 2015 Alice in Wonderland themed Off the Map competition run by the British Library.

Those hoping to treat themselves to their own piece of Alice in Wonderland memorabilia can visit the separate pop up shop (open until the end of January 2016). Also on offer are a series of Alice related events, details of which can be found on the British Library’s website.

The Alice in Wonderland exhibition runs until 17 April 2016.


Join our guided tours in the Tate Modern and National Gallery! Every Friday evening and Sunday afternoon a passionate art historian will present one artist or artistic movement during a relaxed one hour tour.

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