The Afterlife of Alice In Wonderland Exhibit: Early Illustrators, After Tenniel

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    Blanche McManus' Alice in Wonderland at the Tea Party

Lewis Carroll died in 1898.  During his lifetime, there seemed to be little desire or opportunity for artists to compete with John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but after his death, publishers, first in the United States and then in Great Britain, rushed to produce editions with new illustrations. 

The first such book was illustrated by Blanche McManus and published in 1899 by M. F. Mansfield and A. Wessels of New York.  This edition featured eleven full-page plates printed in black and white with green and red accents drawn in a flat style very different from Tenniel’s.  Peter Newell was another early American illustrator of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with an edition published by Harper & Brothers in 1901.  This book has an introduction by E. S. Martin and the text is placed within elegant green decorative borders drawn by Robert Mary Wright and interspersed with Newell’s black and white plates.  His illustrations are filled with humor but drawn in a representational, though somewhat exaggerated, style rather than the comic style of his better known efforts, The Slant Book and Topsy & Turveys.   Maria Louise Kirk also illustrated an early American edition, published in 1904 by Frederick Stokes of New York.   Her color plates, which are interspersed with some of Tenniel’s original drawings, are less humorous and whimsical than Tenniel’s and present a very sturdy, if somewhat bland and unemotional Alice. 

In 1907 the British copyright for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland expired, opening the door for a rush by London publishers to produce editions with new illustrations.  At least eight were published in the fall of that year, with the first being an edition illustrated by Millicent Sowerby and published by Chatto and Windus.   Her illustrations are formal and static and primarily still of interest because they accompanied the first British edition not illustrated by Tenniel.  A more interesting and memorable version was illustrated by Arthur Rackham, published by William Heinemann, also in 1907.  Rackham’s illustrations, especially the color plates with their soft color and animated line, evoke a magical world of mystery and eeriness.  While Alice is portrayed realistically, she is surrounded by grotesque characters.  This blend of realism and fantasy echoes the tensions of the text and foreshadows the surrealism evident in the 1969 portfolio edition illustrated by Salvador Dali which is displayed in the large case in the center of the exhibit area.       ~ © 2007 Rita Smith