To celebrate 150 years of Alice, the British Library have put on a free display exploring the world of Alice through, books, artworks and toys, which is open until 17th April 2016.
Like a lot of women I know, I love absolutely anything to do with Alice In Wonderland – I’ve been a huge, huge fan since I was a child.
I used a torch under my duvet after lights out at boarding school to read the books over and over again, and whisk myself away into Alice’s colourful, surreal world. Those books got me through some rough times. So although I love the movies, the game, the memorabilia, and the numerous themed experiences based on it – the books will always have a special place in my heart.
So of course an Alice In Wonderland exhibition was a must do for me.
I’ve never been to the British Library before. And I have to be honest, as a building, it kind of disappointed. I had expected a beautiful, grand, old building – think Natural History Museum-esque. But it was an ugly 80s style flat roofed thing. Oh well. But that’s not important.
The exhibition starts with a series of illustrated mirrors and pictures, recapping some of the key scenes, before you enter the museum style main part.
One of my favourite Alice artworks was included in this area, ‘Alice & The Pack of Cards’ by Arthur Rackham. If you aren’t familiar with Rackhams work, I suggest you take a look at the rest of his Alice pieces, they’re beautiful.
If you don’t know the history of the Alice stories, or how they came about, here’s a little recap…
On 4th July 1862 Lewis Carroll (which is actually his pen name), took a boat trip with his friend, Robinson Duckworth, and the three young daughters of the Dean of the Oxford College, Christ Church, at which he studied – Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell. To entertain them, Carroll made up a story of Alice’s adventures in a magical world after falling through a rabbit hole.
The rest of the exhibition did not allow photography. Although I didn’t realise and took a few snaps before getting very rudely shouted at (although funnily enough that wasn’t actually while I was taking a picture – I was actually talking to a guy on Tinder, haha!).
I’ll include my pics here as a little taster, but strongly recommed you visit the exhibition for yourself.
Possibly the most high profile piece was the original book. Lewis Carroll produced the manuscript, at the time entitled ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ in 1864 – after a request from Alice Liddell to write down the story he had originally told her 1862. While writing the text Carroll left space for 37 illustrations which he later went back in and created. Over two thirds of the illustrations included the character of Alice, and although Carroll was no artist, it is thought that he took inspiration from the Pre-Raphaelite art of his friends including the painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti and the illustrator Arthur Hughes. The book was gifted to Alice Liddell for Christmas.
A lot of the books in the exhibition were beautifully illustrated. One of my favourites was this copy of ‘The Wonderland Quadrilles… for the Pianoforte’, published in 1872.
The Quadrille was a popular dance in the 18th and 19th centuries which involved four couples dancing together in a rectangular formation. A number of playwrights and composers approached Carroll wanting to create their own work based on the Alice story. This piece was created by Charles Marriott, with Carrolls permission and, at his request, dedicated to Alice Liddell, for the piano.
This art nouveau Alice was illustrated by Charles Robinson in 1907. It contains eight colour plates and 112 line drawings. Alice looks a little different in this one – her dark hair is a reference to Alice Liddell, and the sailor style dress is a nod to the fashion of the time.
I don’t know much about the next book and jigsaw, but I believe they’re from the 1950s.
This jigsaw dates back to the 193os, and was illustrated by AL Bowley, who also illustrated an Alice Panorama which was on display. This was on private loan for the exhibition from the Richards Collection.
Something a little more modern, I really liked this colourful pop up book…
And finally, a beautiful piece by Salvador Dali…
As well as the exhibits, there were Alice video games you could play, and special sculptures scattered around.
The Gift Shop
Running alongside the exhibition is a pop up gift shop with all sorts of Alice inspired gifts.
Is it just me who likes gift shops possibly more than the exhibitions themselves?
Everyone loved these necklaces by jewellery designer Little Moose – check out their online store.
So what’s on?
As well as the exhibition, the British Library are holding seminars and events around the theme throughout February and March. Alice’s Adventures in Comics-Land looks intriguing…
I’d love to hear what anyone else thought of the exhibition!
All photos my own.