Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (published in 1865) is probably the best-known piece of literary nonsense ever written and Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) is probably the best-known surrealist artist. It is not surprising, therefore, that Dali set out to illustrate Carroll's book. He worked on the project, on and off, for two years, and the water-colours which are the basis of the printed illustrations, were painted at his home in Cadaques in northern Spain. The finished work was published in 1969 by Maecenas Press Random House, New York.
The project brought together two of the most famous explorers of dreams and imagination in Western culture and culminated in 13 new illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Twelve of them are heliogravures, one for each chapter of the book with one additional signed etching in four colours as the frontispiece.
Heliogravure is the oldest form of photographic engraving and was invented in the early 19th century. It is a very time-consuming and costly technique to reproduce photographs, but the way the printing plate is produced and then pressed onto thick, absorbent paper gives the most exquisite results with a subtlety of shades and texture that is impossible to imitate by more commercially-available printing methods.
The portfolio was hand-printed on specially made rag paper, by the Ateliers Rigal in Paris, in an edition of 2,500 numbered copies. A super de-luxe edition of 200 copies was also published, with the thirteen illustrations printed on Japon Nacre. All but 490 copies of the edition were shipped across the Atlantic, where the publishers distributed them on a city-by-city basis with, for example, New York receiving 550 copies, Washington 75, and Phoenix only 10. The publishers confidently anticipated that demand would outrun supply and they were right. Dali's Alice illustrations have become one of the most sought-after Dali suite of prints.
Christ Church library holds one of the editions of the thirteen prints. They were on show at Christ Church Picture Gallery over the summer to commemorate 150 years since Charles Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) invented and told the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for the first time, at a boat party and picnic on the river Thames.
Dali's images, like all great illustrations, reinterpret the book and are works of art which can stand by themselves. Alice readers who are familiar with the original illustrations of 1865 by Sir John Tenniel might even be surprised to find such a different suite of images accompanying the book.
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