Alice: A Personal View

It was my intent after publishing the Graham Ovenden post to then move on to his other relevant work. However, while considering his book, Illustrators of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” (1972), I was urged to cover a much more comprehensive volume recently published, Illustrating Alice: An international selection of illustrated editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass published by Artists’ Choice Editions in 2013.

I wanted to call this post ‘The Definitive Alice’ but the book itself admonishes its readers from regarding it that way. It is a fair argument because, after all, it only covers illustration despite including a lot of discussion about the stories and their interpretation. And instead of trying to be thorough in covering all views, we get a wonderful spectrum of personal anecdotes and revelations from artists, collectors and other lovers of Alice lore including the more prominent members of Lewis Carroll societies around the world.

Given that a definitive book on Lewis Carroll’s two stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), would require a multi-volume encyclopedia, Illustrating Alice does remarkably well, bringing out many imaginative key points. The Alice stories (and their ethnic adaptations) have been published in over 100 languages and, in proportion to total word count, are more often quoted in published works than the plays of Shakespeare. Illustrating Alice has an interesting organization. First, some discussion of Alice in different countries is offered, then numerous living illustrators were asked to discuss their experiences and views. There is also some discussion of film adaptations. For serious Alice lovers, this book is an important reference and I offer a more detailed outline of the contents of the book at the end of this post.

With respect to offering fresh interpretations of Alice, it should be recognized how challenging it has been to see past Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations in the original books and to fruitfully psychoanalyze Carroll’s original intent.

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1864)

Sir John Tenniel - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Sir John Tenniel – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)

Due to copyright rules, new versions of Wonderland could not be produced by other publishers until 1907 (and Looking-Glass until 1946). In the U.K. there were already 30 new editions by the end of 1908. Millicent Sowerby had the distinction of being the first to have her illustrations published. Publishers would gradually compete to produce the most opulent editions. W.H. Walker was the first to include scenes not given in the original Tenniel and Harry Rountree had the record for the most color images published, 92. Two of the most popular editions were by Raphael Tuck: one based on early Mabel Lucie Attwell work in 1910 and then a more innovative approach in 1921 based on the work of A.L. Bowley giving us the first examples of pop-ups and a panorama scene with slots to place each of the supplied cut-out characters.

Arthur Rackham - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Arthur Rackham – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

During World War II, there was a dearth of publishing because of paper rationing. One notable exception was the work of Mervyn Peake. He produced illustrations for both Alice books which were first published in Sweden in 1946, then in the U.K. in 1954. His images, considered among the best by many experts, were modeled after a neighbor girl named Caroline Lucas who, he believed, had just the right qualities. The high regard for his work is exemplified by a quote from Graham Greene, “You are the first person who has been able to illustrate the book since Tenniel.” This is even more remarkable when one considers that Greene was generally opposed to the idea of illustrating great literature at all. The work has since appeared in many editions while the original art deteriorated from neglect.

Libanus Press was later commissioned by Bloomsbury Publishing to take up the challenge of scanning the original drawings and putting in about 240 hours of computer work to restore them. The results were published in 2001 and shortly thereafter Libanus published them with the title Peake’s Alice in actual size each accompanied by an appropriate quote. One of the first artists to break through the Tenniel paradigm was Ralph Steadman in 1967, with a freer and highly political take on the story. In the 1970s, Alice became a kind of poster child for the Ruralists, symbolizing an appeal to nature. The most notable of those were by Peter Blake and Graham Ovenden—the Ovenden works being bound into a volume with only 10 copies in existence. This incredible range of production is indicative of the fact that illustration seems to be the last art form that can be produced without need of government grants or powerful patronage.

Mervyn Peake - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

Mervyn Peake – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1946)

In the early days in France only the images of Tenniel and Arthur Rackham were seen. In 1930, the first native illustrator, Marie Laurencin, was published in a limited edition (790) with six colored lithographs. As Alice was assimilated into other cultures, her character would change. Henry Morin (1935) drew an Alice who seemed ill at ease while André Pécoud (1935) portrayed a more mischievous Alice who took delight in her adventures. Nicole Claveloux’s (1974) work is considered a watershed of modern French illustration offering a non-conformist Alice and a special affinity for the animal characters in the story. Her plate with the flamingos became so iconic that it was the basis of a postage stamp in Czechoslovakia. Jean-Claude Silbermann (2002) gives a highly surreal interpretation while Pat Andrea (2006), a noted artist of erotic women, necessarily makes Alice a young woman.

Marie Laurencin - Alice in Wonderland (1930)

Marie Laurencin – Alice in Wonderland (1930)

The first Alice stories in Italy were adapted by Teodorico Pietrocòla-Rossetti—nephew of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and a friend of Carroll—in 1872. This edition was not well-received. The first book featuring an Italian illustrator, Riccardo Salvadori, came out in 1913. Because there was not an established culture of children’s literature in Italy yet, Salvadori’s work, imitating that of Arthur Rackham, meant that this genre was strongly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon imagination. In 1938, under fascism, Carroll’s Alice books were banned. Any publisher wishing to publish had to follow certain guidelines. Perhaps the most famous version was illustrated by Enrico Mercatali (1938) who introduced an older dark-haired girl consistent with the appearance of local girls. In the 1950s, the blond Alice reappeared, partly as a backlash to fascist rules and partly because of the popularity of Disney’s animated film in 1951. In the 1970s, Gianni Celati (1978) used Alice as a symbol of counter-culture and Antonio D’Agostini (c1975) gave a psychedelic interpretation which fits well with Carroll’s fantastical imagery.

Enrico Mercatali - (Exact title unknown) (1938)

Enrico Mercatali – (Exact title unknown) (1938)

During the publishing of the Alice stories, the United States was generally regarded as an ugly stepchild of Britain and something of a rogue nation when it came to respecting copyright. A print run regarded as unsatisfactory by Carroll was sent to the U.S. in 1865. At least half a dozen companies sold pirated editions between 1892 and 1907 before the official expiration of copyright. They all used the Tenniel illustrations but would hire an illustrator for the cover and maybe a frontispiece. Interestingly, the Thomas Crowell edition in 1893 included the first instance of an Alice in a blue frock which became established as her signature color; all images and merchandise approved by Carroll had required the girl to be in a corn-yellow dress. A few publishers did use original work by American illustrators. Blanche McManus was distinguished as the first in 1899 for her husband’s company and Peter Newell in 1901, whose characters display an amusing array of facial expressions and interactions. M.L. Kirk’s rendition in 1904 is somewhat conventional but uses the correct color for Alice’s dress.

After the copyright expired, the floodgates opened and a number of notable American illustrators had their work published including Bessie Pease Gutmann (1907), a single illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith (1923) and Willy Pogány (1929). Walt Disney was obsessed with the story of Alice for a long time, experimenting with various treatments and designs until finally producing the somewhat unsatisfactory film in 1951. The film’s popularity had a stifling effect on innovation in the following decades. David Hall’s paintings and drawings for Disney in the 1930s did finally see the light of day in 1986 and Mary Blair’s concept art for the original film was the basis for a 2008 book.

Perhaps the first satisfactory book after this stagnant period was published in 1982, illustrated by Barry Moser and intended for adult readers. He may have been a bit gun shy of portraying the now iconic Alice and she appears only in the first and last pages as though the reader were observing things from her point of view. A number of prolific and imaginative artists have worked on Alice since then and are really too numerous to name here. An interesting historical note is that the first comic book, a distinctly American art form, was published in 1929 by George Delacorte whose fortune was later used to fund the statue in Central Park. To date, the only edition to be illustrated by a Canadian, George Walker, was produced in 1988 and may also have the distinction of being the last to be set by hand.

Bessie Pease Gutmann - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Bessie Pease Gutmann – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1907)

Camille Rose Garcia - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

Camille Rose Garcia – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2010)

U.S. fans and collectors of Lewis Carroll paraphernalia contributed substantially to the scholarship and preservation of the author’s work. Lessing J. Rosenwald donated a handwritten and self-illustrated manuscript of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures under Ground to the Library of the British Museum in 1948 which can now be viewed in its entirety online.  A copy of ‘The Wasp in a Wig’, a lost chapter to Looking-Glass, was discovered and published in 1972 and Morton Cohen’s biographical research on Carroll is considered to be definitive.

Alice was first introduced to Brazil by Monterio Lobato in the early 1930s using original illustrators (Tenniel and Bowley). He started with an illustration of a fantasy world including Wonderland, Neverland etc. and one from his own stories which translates as “Yellow Woodpecker Ranch”. A number of artists have used collages made from everyday materials to add cultural texture to their work. An example is Helena de Barros (Helenbar) who sewed her own dress and incorporated herself in her images.

Helenbar - A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

Helenbar – A Quadrilha da Lagosta (c2003)

The popularity of Alice in Japan cannot be understated. In fact, the Alice books and associated merchandise are now so popular that it could be said to be an industry in and of itself. The first Japanese illustrator was Shotaro Kawabata (1908). Kawabata imitated Tenniel somewhat but substituted Japanese everyday articles for Europeans ones. Often these treatments were introduced in magazine form rather than stand-alone books. The benefit seems to be that new artists, both writers and illustrators, have an easier way to become established and recognized.

Tsubakibana “Chinka” Yoshimura (1911) was probably the first to illustrate Alice using strictly Japanese patterns, techniques and composition principles. The early portrayal of Alice had a curious character. Because, in Japanese culture, girls have no real transition from childhood to adulthood, girls were portrayed as very young or very mature. Girl children were expected to act very dependent until a certain age and then suddenly expected to be responsible. The idea of a transitional coming-of-age girl was new and explored seriously only in post-war interpretations. Takashi Saida (1925) was perhaps the first to create a middle class Alice with the right balance of sophistication and uncertainty seen in the English versions. In the 1930s, the rising tide of nationalism and militarism influenced the expression in children’s books and there was a decline in sweet and innocent portrayals until after the war when all constraints on style and interpretation were obliterated. The first expression of Alice as a nymphet was in 1974 by Kuniyoshi Kaneko and many have carried on this theme, exploring Alice’s emerging sexuality.

Takashi Saida - ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Takashi Saida – ふしぎなお庭:まりちゃんの夢の国旅行 (1925)

Mainland China had a strange ordinance in 1930 which banned Alice on the silly notion that because the animals talked, it put them on the same level as human beings. Also mentioned in the text is the mystery of a strange edition produced in a short run in Inner Mongolia that seems to defy Chinese convention. Writers and artists are not usually credited in Chinese Communist publications. However, this adaptation not only gives this Taiwanese illustrator credit, but seems to be observing a more international form of copyright law.

Shi Huimin - 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

Shi Huimin – 爱丽丝梦遊奇境 (c2000)

In 1879, the first translation of Alice into Russian appeared featuring the art of Tenniel. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for this new literature and a number of editions were produced before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Under Soviet domination and particularly under Stalin, artists were regarded as engineers of utopian society rather than challengers of societal norms. Carroll’s works were banned outright simply because they emphasized fantasy and nonsense rather than serving a moral purpose—expressing Socialist Realism. Artistic institutions were integrated as government unions so no rogue artist could ever hope to get a commission or be published without state sanction. The principles of Soviet Communism continued to have a hold on the artistic process even after Stalin’s death.

There seemed always to be an attempt to bring a kind of order to chaos, either literally as in Aleksandr Dodon’s (2001) framing of the text with his illustrations or in some metaphorical way, making Alice the arbiter of morality in Wonderland and the Looking-Glass worlds. The fact that both stories take place in a template of game playing (cards and chess) gave Russian artists the comfort of structure and the application of rules. Julia Gukova’s illustrations break through this convention by making Alice more an integral part of Wonderland, undermining her ability to pass judgment on these dream worlds. The Russian truism that there is no absolute truth in narrative is perhaps the unifying theme of work in the region.

V.S. Alfeevsky - Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

V.S. Alfeevsky – Алисa в Стране Чудес (1958)

Aleksandr Dodon - Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

Aleksandr Dodon – Приключения Алисы в Стране Чудес (2001)

The first translation of Wonderland into Polish was in 1910 which included images by Tenniel mixed with an anonymous artist. The effect was confusing since the artist made no effort to match Tenniel’s design or style. It had only one edition and was quickly forgotten. Two later translations/illustrations that did have a lasting impact were by Kamil Mackiewicz (1927) and Olga Siemaszko (1955). As a caricaturist, Mackiewicz’s illustrations predictably exaggerated distinguishing traits of its characters.

A 1955 version was written by Antoni Marianowicz adhering to Communist cultural policy; any reference to class distinctions had to be toned down or reinterpreted. The particular genius of this work is that the English cultural references and poems were replaced outright by Polish ones that readers could relate to. And since Marianowicz was a humorist, this version was certainly more humorous than the original. Siemaszko also illustrated a 1969 version and there is a noticeable refinement in her technique. Most later Polish editions used mostly foreign illustrators and so there appears to be no distinctive Polish style. Only after the fall of Communism did native artists start to come to the fore. Ironically, some of the most recent editions again make use of the Tenniel drawings and so the younger generation is likely to have the same visual associations with the Alice books as their grandparents.

Olga Siemaszko - Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

Olga Siemaszko – Alicja w Krainie Czarów (1955)

After discussing illustrations, the book covers film treatments of Alice. The most interesting is an essay by Jan Švankmajer who describes his relationship to Alice and how, in combination with his own childhood, it inspired the production of an independent film. His first foray into Carroll’s world was a 1971 film based on the poem Jabberwocky. He describes it as an imaginative history of his childhood up to the point when he rebelled against his father. The film opens with a child’s voice (his own daughter, Veronika, then aged 9 in the Czech version) quoting from Looking-Glass. Because the censors saw the film as containing political allegories, it was banned in Czecholslovakia and he made an English version in 1973 which traveled the globe. Only in 1989, was the original film finally seen in his home country.

Another film, inspired somewhat by Alice, was Down in the Cellar (Do pivnice, 1983) about a girl sent to the cellar to fetch potatoes and what happens to her there. Although the film was completed, it did not see the light of day for a number of years due again to censorship. Švankmajer emphasizes the importance of the dream imagery in our human development, a trait that has been long neglected because it served “no moral purpose”.

Finally, he decided to attempt Alice (Něco z Alenky ,1988). The filmmaker wanted to emphasize dream imagery but reminds us that dreams are also filled with familiar objects. All the voices, appropriately altered, would be done by the same child actress consistent with the theory that we are all the characters in our dreams. The idea is that Alice is the only live person in the film and there are no intrusions of adults in voice or body. The other characters were constructed from everyday objects from Alice’s world. The Czech studios took no interest in his work, so he got financing from foreign companies and enlisted the support of art institutions to give his work credibility. The filming was done using old discarded cameras and editing equipment and in 1986, the first Czech independent film saw the light of day. Then in 2006, a Japanese publisher asked him to illustrate both Alice books and he leapt at the chance.

“Lewis Carroll’s Alice is one of the basic books of this civilization, one of those we should take with us to a desert island, just in order to survive.” –Jan Švankmajer (2011, translated by David Short)

Jan Švankmajer - Alice (1988)

Jan Švankmajer – Alice (1988)

Another essay discusses how Alice lends itself so well to animation. Considering the fantastical nature of the stories, it seems that only this medium would have any hope of effectively portraying these magical worlds. Kamilla Elliott, in her book Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate (2003), has identified over 50 film and television adaptations. As mentioned before, Walt Disney was obsessed with producing Alice very early on and in the 1920s, he experimented with a combination of live action and animation for Alice in Cartoonland. The 1951 film distinguishes itself by featuring an actual child’s voice—that of Kathryn Beaumont who also did Wendy in Peter Pan—as opposed to young women used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.

A number of living artists shared their experiences illustrating Alice and the philosophy behind their approach. Michael Foreman, for example, noticed how few illustrators tried to make Alice look like the original Alice (Liddell). He also made a deliberate effort to distinguish reality (sepia) from dream (color) and insists that the real background for Wonderland must be his native Cornwall. Barry Moser muses how the story is really about loneliness because of how often the words “alone” and “lonely” appear in the text. John Vernon Lord is a stickler and points out that in the actual text, “Mad” is not applied to any particular character but rather all characters in general. Over the years, we have inherited certain assumptions because of past illustrators: the Hatter is mad, the Hatter wears a hat with a price tag on it and that, at the Mad Tea Party, things other than tea are served. Tatiana Ianovskaia observes a lightly etched eroticism implied by the various metaphors of two things being one: most notably, how playing cards are a kind of marriage of two bodies sharing one space. The other artists featured were John Bradley, Chiara Carrer, Emma Chichester Clark, Gavin O’Keefe, DeLoss McGraw, Helen Oxenbury, Ralph Steadman and Justin Todd.

Tatiana Ianovskaia - Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

Tatiana Ianovskaia – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (2005)

A short afterword, written by Graham Ovenden, comments on the modern estrangement between adults and children and that we are often deprived of the full potential of illustrators’ talent and imagination because of economic considerations.

Some of the contributors have observed some developments in the evolution of children’s books. First of all, they feel that there is a lack of charming little details. There is an assumption that children’s books should have simple illustrations. There also seems to be no adult market for illustrated books except in France and Russia. And one final observation is that with the onset of the digital age, Illustrating Alice may distinguish itself as the last time we see this kind of compilation in hard copy.

This post is quite timely as this year is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Illustrating Alice was published in a run of 500 for the Standard edition (68 for the Special edition which comes with signed prints) and can be purchased through the Inky Parrot Press. This publisher also sells other Alice volumes including a version where each illustration is from a different artist. For those wanting a more comprehensive analysis of the Alice texts and history should read one the editions referred to as The Annotated Alice.

Illustrating Alice summary of contents:

  • Foreword by Marina Vaizey
  • Alice in different countries: Brazil by Adriana Peliano, China by Richard Newnham, England, 1865–1939 by Selwyn Goodacre, England, 1940 to today by Dennis Hall, France by Michèle Noret, Italy by Caterina Morelli, Japan by Mikiko Chimori, Poland by Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, Russia by Ella Parry-Davies, United States and Canada by Mark Burnstein
  • Alice in Film: ‘Alice’ by Jan Švankmajer, ‘Animating Alice’ by Karen Lury
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (artists credited above)
  • Alice Through the Looking-Glass (collected illustrations only, organized by chapter
  • Alice: as through a Glass Darkly (afterword) by Graham Ovenden
  • Alphabetical Checklist of English Language Editions from the lists compiled by Selwyn Goodacre and Edward Wakeling
  • Index of Artists of non-English Language Editions and individual paintings

And I Bring You . . . Falles

Catholicism is not without its raucous holidays and celebrations, with quite a few of them being largely local affairs.  The most prominent one in the U.S. is Mardi Gras, which has an analog in Brazil’s Carnaval.  Both are festivals of decadence and indulgence leading up to the weeks of fasting and austerity called Lent, and there are similar events throughout the realms of Catholicism.  Although celebrated around the same time, the Valencian holiday of Falles, which officially begins on March 15th (that’s right, it starts in only a few days) and ends on March 19th, is not associated with this cycle.

Basically, Falles (a Valencian word meaning ‘torches’) is a five-day-long outdoor party held in honor of St. Joseph in which each successive day is given over to progressively bigger and more involved pyrotechnic displays, culminating on the last evening, the Night of Fire, with La Cremà.  This final spectacle is where the holiday gets its name, for during La Cremà immense wood, paper, wire and paint constructions–the falles themselves–are set alight in the streets and squares of Valencia.  What makes this so fascinating, I think, is that the falles aren’t the sloppily built towers of cheap wood you would expect them to be; no, they are in fact elaborately and carefully crafted sculptures planned, designed and constructed for months prior to Falles.  In fact, the appreciation of these disposable artworks has become an affair unto itself, with the casal fallers competing to be recognized for the best falla.

These sculptures are more often than not satirical or humorous in nature, sometimes even bawdy.  Nudity is not unusual, nor is ripping off famous or distinguished sources, which is where the satire comes in.  Keep in mind that, although there are toned-down versions of these for small children, called falles infantil, which are burnt earlier in the evening, children attend the burning of the falles major as well.

In 2013 one of the falles submitted for judgment was created by artist Manuel Algarra; it was titled Futuro a la vista! (Future in Sight!) and was a giant sculpture-in-the-round featuring toddlers engaged in a variety of occupations.  Although it was never identified as the inspiration for the piece, I immediately recognized one of the toddler figures as based on a J.C. Leyendecker-illustrated cover for the Saturday Evening Post.

J.C. Leyendecker - Saturday Evening Post - January 4, 1936 (cover)

J.C. Leyendecker – Saturday Evening Post – January 4, 1936 (cover)

I have since encountered another cover with one of the other babies–the boy with the cuckoo clock–as the central figure, and I discern, based on the consistency of their style, that all of them are actually based on Leyendecker’s work.  The final falles design can be seen in a flat conceptual form (I couldn’t find a larger version of this image, so if anyone out there has this just a bit bigger, it would be appreciated):

Manuel Algarra; J.C. Leyendecker - Futuro a la vista!

Manuel Algarra; J.C. Leyendecker – Futuro a la vista!

And here are photographs of the actual falles taken from a variety of angles:

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (1)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (1)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (2)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (2)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (3)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (3)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (4)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (4)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (5)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (5)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (6)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (6)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (7)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (7)

Although the following image focuses on a boy, I am sharing it because it really demonstrates the amount of detail that goes into the creation of these pieces.

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (8)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (8)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (9)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (9)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (10)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (10)

One can see in the background of this next photo, just behind the rocking horse, the standing pigtailed girl.  I tried to find a close-up image showing her from the front but was unable to locate one on the web.

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (11)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (11)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (12)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (12)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (13)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (13)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (14)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (14)

Manuel Algarra - 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (15)

Manuel Algarra – 2013 Falles Installation (Futuro a la vista!) (15)


On the surface, it seems that a tomboy is just a girl who has similar tastes to boys or—as a feminist might define her—someone who sees the privileges of boys in our society and finds her gender role constricting.

J.D. Cardinell - I'm Goin' to Be a Boy (1900)

J.D. Cardinell – I’m Goin’ to Be a Boy (1900)

The reasons why a girl becomes a tomboy are not purely biological or purely psychological. I don’t remember the name of the documentary now, but it showed a little girl with a particular hormonal imbalance who acted exactly like a boy—rough-housing and playing competitive sports—despite being anatomically female. Cultural forces alone cannot account for the apparent gender inequities; there are perfectly valid biological motivations to consider here. As scientists learn the subtleties of biochemistry and how it affects development, it is clear that a girl’s or boy’s brain is “built” the way it is and gives each sex its peculiar stereotypical character. A powerful illustration can be seen in the TLC documentary A Child’s World (2001) where a little girl is obsessed with pink and wants everything of hers to be pink, even the lenses in her glasses.

Alex Graham & Leanne Klein - A Child's World Facts of Life (2002)

Alex Graham & Leanne Klein – A Child’s World: Facts of Life (2002)

This is quite usual as almost any mother with daughters will attest, but the dark side of this reality is when a girl does not fit the mold. In addition to feeling out of place herself, her family almost instinctively torments her about her oddness and very often there are serious psychological repercussions. The most moving account I read recently of gender roles comes from Frank Cordelle’s The Century Project—the testimony of Ana aged 45.

When I was a girl, I secretly wanted to be a boy. I hoped that I would wake one morning to find that my slim, strong body had become male. I didn’t analyze the reasons for my longing, but I knew that boys had a lot more freedom and fun than girls did.
It wasn’t until my late 20s, when my mother told me of the years of sexual abuse she had endured as a young girl, that I began to understand the deeper root of my desire. Part of my mother’s legacy was her loathing of the feminine, within herself and also in her three daughters. My mother, a pretty, doe-like woman, despised herself in many ways: her tears, her scent, her face, her sexuality, her body—full hips, softness, curves. It was impossible to grow up in my family and be a whole, healthy female. My sisters turned to overeating, anger, drugs, and sexual promiscuity. I wanted boyhood.
My childhood offered me many opportunities to live as a boy. My parents assigned me “boy” chores (lawn mowing, taking out the trash) and gave my older sister ‘girl’ chores (cooking, cleaning). I wore jeans and plaid shirts, sneakers, and baseball caps. I got my hair cut as short as my mother would allow and walked out into the world with the confidence of a boy: strong and self-assured. Every time I was mistaken for a boy, which was often, I felt a sense of triumph. I climbed trees, rode my pony, shot my rifle, paddled my raft, built forts, played catch, fished, and rode my bike with abandon.
In junior high, my body held fast to its androgynous shape. I secretly believed that I was being spared the burdensome life of a woman. My body at last betrayed me with breasts at 15 and menstruation at 16. A week after my first period, I was asked out on my first date by the sleazy high school lettermen’s club president—considered a real catch by every girl in my school—who, at evening’s close, walked me to my parents’ door, stuck his long, slimy tongue into my shocked mouth, and told me he loved me. My hopes came crashing down. I wasn’t going to become a boy after all. I was doomed to grow into womanhood and all the limitations that came with it.
As an adult I have lived with my destiny. I never considered transgendering; it was a boy I wanted to be, not a man. I learned about women: our bodies, our selves, our struggles, our strengths, and slowly became comfortable with my gender. My mother’s legacy still flowing through me, I resisted all cultural symbols of femininity: adornment, makeup, pink dresses, allowance for chivalry, a wiggle in my walk. I tucked my boy-self inside, never far from my girl-self, and became a woman unlike those I had grown up around. I liked myself.
In my late 20s I gave birth to two beautiful, wild boys who taught me—like nothing else had—that I had not, indeed, been a boy. Although I am quite an adventuresome mother, I clearly am made of something different, and that something is female.
Two years ago I made perhaps the biggest leap of my journey to womanhood: I got married. In a white lace dress with flowers in my hair. I felt beautiful, lovely, and feminine. A month after the wedding, I was riding my cruiser (the bike in the photo), which consistently allows me my strongest young-male experience. I still ride it with abandon and feel practically invincible when I’m gliding along on it, strong and fast and independent.
That day, I happened to look down at my left hand and saw my wedding ring. I nearly fell off my bike! There was something wrong here. How could this adolescent boy be wearing a wedding ring? How could he possibly have let himself become a wife? I had to pull over in order to calm myself.
I am a longtime grown woman with a strong boy alive and well inside of me. These two selves make up the core of who I am.

A friend of mine recommended I watch a French film that had just come out called Tomboy. I was working on Pigtails by that time so I figured that even though it did not sound very interesting to me, I should watch it for my own education. I expected the patent formula of a girl pretending to be a boy until the inevitable climax when she is discovered and yet manages to have a happy ending. I should have realized that no good European filmmaker could be accused of following a formula and Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy (2011) is a case in point. It does have all the expected elements but presents them in a personal and compelling way.

At the start, we see 10-year-old Laure (Zoé Héran) being allowed to handle the controls of the car as she and her father arrive at their new home in a Paris suburb. Her hair is cut short–as short as her mother would allow.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (1)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (1)

Already at home and settled in are the mother, pregnant with a boy, and Laure’s 6-year-old sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana) who is the archetypal girly girl with pink walls, stuffed animals and frolicking around the house in her favorite tutu.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (2)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (2)

Nudity—no matter how cleverly explained or disguised—always feels a little gratuitous to me, so I must commend the filmmaker for this discreet but necessary piece of visual exposition.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (3)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (3)

After watching the neighborhood boys, Laure sets out to join them and meets Lisa (Jeanne Disson) on the way. Laure convinces her that she is a boy named Mickäel. Lisa senses there is something special about this “boy” and begins to develop a crush. Here she is telling Mickäel that he is different from the other boys.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (4)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (4)

Lisa joins Mickäel and the boys in a game of truth or dare.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (5)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (5)

As Lisa and Mickäel’s relationship develops, Lisa becomes more amorous and ventures a kiss. In a later scene, Mickäel decides she doesn’t want to hurt Lisa’s feelings and reciprocates with a kiss—something we would not see a boy that age doing.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (6)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (6)

Naturally, complications ensue and in one case while playing soccer and drinking to stay hydrated, they all need to pee so the boys just walk over to the bushes to relieve themselves. Obviously, Laure can’t do this and tries to pretend she does not need to pee until she finally runs into the woods in desperation; but it is already too late and she wets herself. This is noticed by one of the boys and Laure/Mickäel is humiliated. Lisa later tries to console him and helps him join the gang of boys again. In preparation for a gathering at the local watering hole, Laure secretly fashions herself a clay penis to make Mickäel’s appearance more convincing. Here she is seeing how it looks.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (7)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (7)

Laure’s little sister Jeanne realizes what has been going on and uses this knowledge to blackmail Laure into taking her along on her outings; she does not like being cooped up at home either. Here, Jeanne is bragging to Cheyenne (Cheyenne Lainé) about the benefits of having an older “brother” who can protect her.

Céline Sciamma - Tomboy (2011) (8)

Céline Sciamma – Tomboy (2011) (8)

Her words are prophetic when one of the boys pushes her and she is hurt, compelling Mickäel to fight the boy. The boy’s mother soon confronts the family and the secret is out. After that, Laure’s mother makes her wear a dress and apologize to the families. The final scene shows Laure and Lisa meeting in the courtyard and taking their first timid steps in reestablishing their friendship under these new terms. This compelling drama focuses on the children (the parents are not even named) and is well worth seeing—not just some superficial comedy of errors.

The Century Project [now a defunct website]

Tomboy (2011) (IMDb)

A Child’s World (2001) is a three episode series, parts of which can be found on YouTube.  I am reluctant to offer a link here as these programs tend to get removed for copyright infringement.

Sulamith Wülfing: Allegories and Transformations

Another recurring theme throughout Sulamith Wülfing’s art is transformation.  Many of her figures are in the midst of change of some sort, often in a symbolic way.  Thus, her ‘young girls as budding flowers’ allegory applies here.  There is, at any rate, an element of the fantastic in most of her work.

Before I post the actual artwork, here is a photo of Wülfing as a young child, taken by (I believe) an uncle.  Certainly a relative of some sort.  I’m not going to label this one as it is already labeled with all the pertinent information: the photographer’s name is at the bottom right and the subject’s name and the date of the photo are at bottom left.

Sulamith Wülfing – Autumn Storm

Sulamith Wülfing – Blue Flower

Sulamith Wülfing – Circle Rounds

Sulamith Wülfing – Circle Rounds (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – Easter Candles (1952)

Sulamith Wülfing – Everything Sleeps with the Little Flower

Here’s another of my favorite Wülfing pieces. I love the detailing on the boat’s prow and its reflection in the water. Simple a fantastic illustration!

Sulamith Wülfing – In the Boat (1941)

Sulamith Wülfing – Night is Like a Quiet Sea

Sulamith Wülfing – Night is Like a Quiet Sea (detail)

Butterflies and moths, being transformative creatures themselves, frequently make an appearance in her art.

Sulamith Wülfing – Nocturnal Butterflies

Sulamith Wülfing – The Circle (1938)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Circle (detail) (1938)

Sulamith Wülfing – Transformation

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (1)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (2) (1932)

Wikipedia: Sulamith Wülfing

John Austen: The Semiotics of Parental Grief

One thing I discussed fairly often at the original Pigtails was the semiotics and aesthetics of art; that will be no different here.  Thus, I wanted to point out something interesting in John Austen’s artistic interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but first we need a little literary and historical context here.  With the exception of Hamlet himself (he is around 30) the ages of the characters are never specifically given.  However, the practices of the day should be kept in mind.  Peasants may have married whenever it was convenient for them, but royalty and nobility would’ve been expected to marry very young, and often their marriages were arranged in childhood.  This was particularly true of females.  Both Hamlet and Ophelia were nobles, Hamlet a full-fledged prince and Ophelia the daughter of the king’s adviser.  Given these facts, it is almost certain that Ophelia is an adolescent, or at most a young woman in her early twenties.  Any older than this and she would’ve been married off already, if not to Hamlet then to another noble.

What I’d like you to pay attention to in the following two drawings is the age that Ophelia appears to be in both.  In the first, while she is alive, she is clearly a young lady approaching adulthood, and so she appears in most of Austen’s drawings of her.  In the second her dead body appears to have reverted to that of a child’s.  Why is this?  Well, it is Austen’s clever way of looking at Ophelia through the eyes of a (surrogate) parent.  As the daughter of the king’s chamberlain, we can be sure that Ophelia grew up in the kingdom, and we know that Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, adored her almost as she would her own flesh-and-blood daughter.  It is Gertrude who finds Ophelia’s body and announces her death in what some consider one of the most heartbreaking scenes and speeches in the whole of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.  This scene is what Austen captures in the second drawing.

Again, notice how young Ophelia appears to be in this image.  Also, note that she is nude, giving her an additional mien of vulnerability and innocence, reinforcing the concept of Gertrude’s view of her as a beloved child, and we the viewer are therefore meant to feel more acutely the grief being expressed here, as that of a mother for a lost daughter.

Austen is another of my favorite illustrators.  I know, I know—I have so many favorite illustrators that I almost don’t need to mention this point anymore.  What can I say?  I love this stuff and I just gotta broadcast it!  Anyway, Austen began his career mimicking Aubrey Beardsley to some extent (personally I like Austen’s stuff far more than I like Beardsley’s), but as his career unfolded he embraced an array of styles and media to better compliment the works he was illustrating.  He fits snugly in the Golden Age era of illustration and was an absolute master of his craft.

John Austen – Hamlet (1922) (1)

John Austen – Hamlet (1922) (2)

JVJ Publishing: John Austen

Wikipedia: John Austen

Sulamith Wülfing: Girls in Bloom

As a particularly apt metaphor for girls achieving womanhood, the blossoming flower has long been employed by artists and poets in this sense.  But Wülfing took the idea and ran with it, placing adolescent girls inside of flowers.  A couple of times she used the ‘flower bud as womb’ metaphor in the same way, showing translucent buds bearing glowing infants, but it is really the blooming adolescent girl that most fascinated her, and that is the focus of this post.

As we can see in this first image, even when the flowers weren’t birthing children or young ladies in her art, they were still often oversized, to accommodate the artist’s love for depicting sensuous details like intricate leaves and petals.  With the juxtaposition of flowers and girls, Wülfing was really in her element.

Sulamith Wülfing – Iris

Sulamith Wülfing – The Young Girl (1942)

Sulamith Wülfing – Development

Sulamith Wülfing – Development (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – Sun Shined Over the Pasture (1932)

Sulamith Wülfing – Sun Shined Over the Pasture (detail) (1932)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Garden Child

Sulamith Wülfing – The Garden Child (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – Flower (1931)

Sulamith Wülfing – Flower (detail) (1931)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (1) (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (1) (detail) (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing (title unknown) (2)

Wikipedia: Sulamith Wülfing

Sulamith Wülfing: Angelic Presences

I have been sifting and sorting my Sulamith Wülfing folder and will be doing what is now looking to be a seven part series on her, the first of which was already posted. So, the second part deals with angels and angelic beings, which show up frequently in Wülfing’s art. Consequently, this post will be quite graphics heavy.

As I pointed out in the first post on her, she claimed to have seen angels and other mystical beings from a very early age. I suspect she may have been pulling the legs of many, many people, including her parents, who, being Theosophists, were no doubt pleased as punch to have a daughter who could see spirits, fairies and angels. Whatever the case, with the help of her husband Otto Schulze, who set up a printing house in sole service to his wife’s artwork, she channeled her eccentricities into a quite lucrative career. And whether she saw angels or not, she definitely had a knack for visually expressing these gentle, ephemeral creatures as sweet wide-eyed children, wispy adolescents or beautiful lush-winged adults. It is, however, the first two of those groups we are most concerned with.  Some of the angels here are adults, but these are protecting, guiding or counseling young girls in some way.

As you can see from this photograph of Wülfing and her husband, in her youth she was just a slip of a girl herself (quite a pretty one, I might add), and it seems she may have modeled for herself often enough.  Schultze and Wülfing had one child, a son, who currently represents her estate.

(Photographer Unknown) – Portrait of Sulamith Wülfing and Otto Schultze

Sulamith Wülfing – All Souls Day

I was planning to post only one of these, as they are the exact same image, but I decided to post them both because I think they reveal something interesting about how changing the lighting and color values can completely alter the tone of a work.  In the topmost version the colors are dark and cool tones prevail, giving the piece a menacing aspect.  However, the version below it is bright (too bright, really–some of the lighters shades are almost completely washed out) and the scene is awash in much warmer pinks, reds and faint earth tones, making for a much more inviting piece.  Remember this when you are photographing an artwork, especially if you’re looking to sell something!  Some of this can be corrected for in programs like Photoshop.  I do it frequently.  But if the textures of particularly detailed works–especially ones with a lot of exquisite subtleties like Wülfing’s art–are too bright or too dark, they can lose a lot of their impact.

Sulamith Wülfing – Angel and Child (1)

Sulamith Wülfing – Angel and Child (2)

Now here’s a piece where the colors and tones were reproduced perfectly!

Sulamith Wülfing – Caterpillar

Sulamith Wülfing – Child

Here’s another interesting thing.  This piece I have marked as a detail (meaning a fragment of the entire piece), and yet, unlike the others marked similarly, I do not have a full version of the image, nor have I seen it.  So how do I know it is a only a fragment then, you may ask?  Elementary: I can tell by the way it was cropped, which is badly, especially on the right side, making the composition rather cramped and awkward on that side.  I also know that Wülfing was too good of an illustrator to have made this mistake in her art.  Eventually I will give you all a simple lesson in composition, but for now just take my word for it.  Unless, of course, you already know a thing or two about artistic composition!

Sulamith Wülfing – Childhood (detail)

This is an interesting piece in that the lines are heavier than is common for her.  I suspect this may have been a piece created early in her career, but I don’t know for sure.  The image is also pretty badly desaturated, so that makes it seem heavier.

Sulamith Wülfing – Dialogue

Now this is more like it!  By the way, I am not entirely certain about some of the titles of these works.  Clearly some were crudely translated from the original German (not by me–if I’m not sure on a translation, I will leave it in the original language, and sometimes I do that anyway because I like the sound of the original title better than its English translation), and others had two or three different titles, depending on which website you encounter it on.  This is why I hate, hate, hate when people post images without citing all the pertinent info, especially if they fail to give the artist credit for his or her work.  I mean if they know it.  Sometimes people just don’t have that info available, despite their best efforts.  This happens with me often enough.  If I do not know an artwork’s title, and especially if I do not credit the artist, you can be sure that I at least tried to find that information.  But there are just too many people on the web who post art and had the information available to them at the time but decided not to provide it.

Sulamith Wülfing – Dream Angel (1934)

Here’s a good example of one where the title didn’t quite sound right to me, but it was the best I could find.  I know the ‘Eija, Eija’ part is right; it’s the part that comes after that sounds iffy to me.  Still, it is technically not grammatically incorrect.  It can be read as if the children were contemplating what their lives might be like if they were Eija–something like, “Eija, Eija, if we were you, we would . . .”  But here it takes a slightly different form: “Eija, Eija, were we you, we would . . .”  And so on.  This appears to be a funeral for little Eija.  Note the melancholy poses of the angels and the older child sitting by the barrow, as well as the musical instruments being sounded by the angels.

Sulamith Wülfing – Eija, Eija, Were We You

Sulamith Wülfing – Eija, Eija, Were We You (detail)

Another obviously cropped work.

Sulamith Wülfing – Fulfillment (detail 1)

Sulamith Wülfing – Fulfillment (detail 2)

Sulamith Wülfing – Moon Angels

Sulamith Wülfing – Moon Angels (detail)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Bud (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Bud (detail) (1933)

Sulamith Wülfing – The Encounter

Sulamith Wülfing – The Encounter (detail)

And the best for last (in my opinion); this piece is one of my absolute favorites.  It’s simpler and not as dynamic as some of her other pieces, but what it sacrifices in dynamism it makes up for in elegance and a sturdy sense of design.

Sulamith Wülfing – The First Butterfly

Sulamith Wülfing – The First Butterfly (detail)

Wikipedia: Sulamith Wülfing

Rackham Around the Christmas Tree: Arthur Rackham’s Holiday Art

Another of my favorite illustrators, Arthur Rackham is one of the major names—or perhaps the major name—associated with the American Golden Age of illustration.  One of the things I most like about Rackham’s work is the fact that his children are not terribly exaggerated, even if the adults sometimes are.  This demonstrates a respect for kids that, say, Norman Rockwell lacked.  Rockwell’s work tends to sacrifice children’s dignity on the altar of humor, but I will get into that when I deal with Rockwell proper.  Back to Rackham: whilst Rockwell’s art displays the quintessentially American disdain for children while strongly reinforcing American values, stylistically Rackham tended to follow the European tradition of romanticizing children, which in my book is the lesser of the two evils.

What balances this romanticism out is the grittiness and detail with which he invests his art.  Rackham’s illustrations often have a density and gravitas that many of his contemporaries were unable to achieve whilst still maintaining the decorative aspects and sinuous lines that were indicative of the illustration work of the era.  Thus, Rackham could shift from a darker mode to a lighter one with ease.

His Christmas illustrations fit into the lighter mode.  He made two major contributions to Christmas: one was his illustrations for an edition Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol first published in 1915; the other was work accompanying a 1931 printing of Clement C. Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (shortened to just “The Night Before Christmas” for the printing.)  I particularly like the latter—the illustrations are richly colored, and I enjoy Rackham’s take on Santa as an actual elf-sized being rather than the full-sized human he is normally depicted as.  This makes perfect sense for a creature who is able to climb up and down the interiors of chimneys.

Arthur Rackham – A Christmas Carol (1915) (1)

Arthur Rackham – A Christmas Carol (1915) (2)

Arthur Rackham – The Night Before Christmas (1931) (cover)

Arthur Rackham – The Night Before Christmas (1931) (1)

Arthur Rackham – The Night Before Christmas (1931) (2)

Arthur Rackham – To Bethlehem – A Christmas Masque (1931)

Art Passions: Arthur Rackham (There’s a ton of great Rackham art here)

Wikipedia: Arthur Rackham

Sulamith Wülfing: Christmas Pieces

Merry Christmas!  From now until the end of the year I am going to do a series of Christmas-related art, since I have a bunch of it pulled.  Our first artist is Sulamith Wülfing, a German illustrator I have been fascinated with ever since I first encountered her work in a Bud Plant catalog several years ago.  Her work is romantic and spiritual in nature and highly decorative, drawing from traditions of art nouveau and the fairy tale illustrators of both the Victorian era and her own early twentieth century era.

Wülfing, the daughter of Theosophist parents, led an interesting life right from the get-go.  She, like William Blake (another artist she draws inspiration from), claimed that as a child she could see all sorts of creatures and beings invisible to others, such as angels, fairies and sprites.  These experiences would inform her art for the rest of her life.  Although much of her work was destroyed during WWII when a bomb struck her Wuppertal home, she managed to stay artistically productive and created and published hundreds of pieces before she died, no small feat considering the amount of detail she put into each work.

The artist clearly adored holidays, Christmas in particular, as she generated several Christmas-themed pieces.  Here are a few . . .

Sulamith Wülfing – Christmas Swing

Sulamith Wülfing – Little Gerda

Sulamith Wülfing – Crown of Light

Sulamith Wülfing – The Great Ball

Sulamith Wülfing – Untitled

Spirit of the Ages: Sulamith Wülfing

Wikipedia: Sulamith Wülfing