Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations for Lewis Carroll's Alice books remain familiar even today. Over the years many other fine illustrators and artists have been inspired to take on this masterpiece of children's literature. Below are a few examples of different illustrative approaches to A Mad Tea Party.
Here we have a color plate of Sir John Tenniel's famous original illustration for the Lewis Carroll classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). This well-established image is clearly the one to beat. But even if an illustrator could surpass this, is it possible for any image to replace this one in the public's imagination?
Arthur Rackham, A Mad Tea Party, 1907Arthur Rackham's book illustrations generally occupy a full page and are therefore usually more vertical compositions, or what we in the digital age call the portrait orientation. This is more beautiful than Tenniel's woodcut rendering and more ornate, but it may be a little too sedate for a truly Mad Tea Party. Alice's unease is palpable. Tenniel's Alice was downright cross.
Ralph Steadman, A Mad Tea Party, 1967
Ralph Steadman's skill as a draftsman is uncanny. Here his rendition from 1967 is the rudest Mad Tea Party I have found, hardly your typical children's book fare. Note the very original and appropriate use of upside-down typesetting. Steadman often brings a stunning savagery to his illustrations--this one, believe it or not, is relatively tame--and yet his compositions frequently are just brilliant. I don't think there's anything he can't draw. Like Alice, though, I think I might like to slink under the table here.
Salvador Dali, A Mad Tea Party, lithograph, 1969Dali places his characters in the background, where Alice is the figure jumping rope. Consequently, this seems to be more of an artistic composition based on the story rather than a true illustration of Alice's adventure. Like Steadman, Dali has a tree growing through the middle of the table, here rendered as a pocket watch with a key. We've all seen Dali's bent timepieces before, but was there ever a more appropriate use than here at the Mad Tea Party with the perennially late White Rabbit in attendance?
|Sir John Tenniel, A Mad Tea Party, 1865|
Image added June 23, 2012
Arthur Rackham: http://www.artpassions.net/rackham/alice7.html
J. MacFarlane at Bloomsbury Auctions: http://www.bloomsburyauctions.com/detail/35824/22.0