Amazing Photograph Evokes The Rabbit Hole

My acrophobia notwithstanding, this is a very cool photograph, well deserving of its win in the Clique Challenge in Sydney.  Read the full story.

The winner: Buildings and Monuments Challenge, Rodney Campbell, Queen Victoria Building titled Down the Rabbit Hole. Photo: Rodney Campbell

Exploring the Influence of Lewis Carroll’s Trip to Russia on His Photography

Art History November 2013One of our mimsy minions has alerted us that a recent issue of Art History journal includes an article entitled ”Shopping in St Petersburg: Lewis Carroll’s Photographs and Icons”  Here’s a brief excerpt, courtesy of our minion:

“While critics have paid scant attention to Carroll’s Russian visit, maintaining it had little impact upon him since he never again travelled abroad, the rich visual experience of religious icon and secular photographic ‘type’ meant that after 1867, in revisiting Chinese and other costume photographs, Carroll contrived scenarios both formally and conceptually different from that realized in Lorina and Alice Liddell of 1860. Most noticeably he combined the distinctive material forms and metaphysical resonances of ‘photograph’ and ‘icon’ in his increasing preference for photographing individual female children dressed in ethnic costume posed in interiors devoid of the decorative trappings of nineteenth-century portrait studios.”

Issues of the journal are hosted by the Wiley Online Library.  If you do not have access to the site through the institution for which you work, they also offer an option of renting access to the article for 24 hours.

The article appears in Volume 36, Issue 5, pages 968–993, November 2013.  To learn more, click me.

Famous photographs of Alice Liddell promised to the Carnegie Museum of Art

Alice Liddell as a Beggar Maid

Alice Liddell as a Beggar Maid, now at the Carnegie Museum of Art

Two of the most famous photographs Dodgson made of Alice Liddell have been promised to the Carnegie Museum of Art: “Alice Liddell as a Beggar Maid” (1858, albumen print) and “Alice with Garland” (1860, glass negative).

The gift, from the collection of William Talbott Hillman, also includes key works by Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Alfred Stieglitz and represents “an exceptionally important addition” to the museum, in the words of Linda Benedict-Jones, curator of photographs. “Indeed” she continued “they may pave the way for further collecting of iconic works by such recognized masters of the medium.”

I haven’t been able to find an image of “Alice with Garland” online. If anyone reading this knows where to find one, could you link to it in the comments below?

Alice’s Adventures Underwater

If you like underwater photography – and what landlubber doesn’t? – there’s an artist named Elena Kalis who specializes in just that. Her latest series is called “Alice in Waterland and Looking Glass,” and comprises of lovely submerged Alices. Her entire portfolio can be seen here.

The little-known story of Lewis Carroll and the girl from Staten Island

Have you ever heard the story of how Lewis Carroll inspired the career of Staten Island photographer Alice Austen? I thought not. Read all about it in Alice Austen’s Amazing Adventures in The Wonderland of Staten Island on the official website of “The Forgotten History of Staten Island.”

Before you get too worried about what else you might have missed in your studies of the great man, check out some of the other unexpected tales on the website, all purportedly the work of Dr. D. I. Kniebocker (Staten Island’s self-described “greatest historian”). The website has been created by questioning historian Ed Weiss, who also coordinated related installations and readings around Staten Island last year. And remember, as Voltaire is supposed to have said, “History can be well written only in a free country.”

G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked) – The Dormouse and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Wombat

A sleepy young Hazel dormouse

The Dormouse in Chapter VII of The Annotated Alice (pgs. 93-95) gets the following footnote from Martin Gardner:

The British dormouse is a tree-living rodent that resembles a small squirrel much more than it does a mouse. The name is from the Latin dormire, to sleep, and has reference to the animal’s habit of winter hibernation. Unlike the squirrel, the dormouse is nocturnal, so that even in May (the month of Alice’s adventure) it remains in a torpid state throughout the day. In Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti, 1906, we are told that the dormouse may have been modeled after Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s pet wombat, which had a habit of sleeping on the table. Carroll knew all the Rossettis and occasionally visited them.

This is the second blog post in a series for the LCSNA called Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked, in which we employ the mighty power of the internet to illuminate, investigate, and of course provide links for the footnotes from The Annotated Alice.

The only dormouse native to the British Isles is the Hazel dormouse, which is indeed more closely related to a squirrel than to a mouse. (The suborder Sciuromorpha contains chipmunks, squirrels, and dormice. Mice and rats are muroids.) Although dormire in Latin does mean “to sleep,” it might not be directly related to the etymology of “dormouse.” The Wiktionary‘s etymology: “From Middle English dormous, of uncertain origin. Possibly from dor-, from Old Norse dár (‘benumbed’) + mous (‘mouse’). … Although the word has come to be associated as an Anglo-Norman derivative of Old French dormir (‘to sleep’), no such Anglo-Norman word is known to have existed,” and it cites the Random House Dictionary as its reference. (The dormousian association with sleepiness seems to go back centuries – the Elizabethans apparently rubbed dormouse fat on the soles of their feet to induce sleep, according to The Sleepyhead’s Bedside Companion by Sean Coughlan. How could an animal both nocturnal and hibernating have any other reputation? We posted a cute viral video of a snoring dormouse a few months ago here.)

William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919)

As for Gardner’s one literary reference in his note, the Pre-Raphaelite memoir Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti (1906), it’s widely available and has been reprinted multiple times in the past decade. Google Books has several accessible copies of the text: Vol. I here; Vol. II here. It is true that C.L. Dodgson knew the Rossetti’s and would hang out with them sometimes. It is also true that Dante Gabriel Rossetti owned several wombats (and some dormice and other exotic pets), and that one beloved wombat would entertain at dinner parties. However, it’s impossible that Gardner read in that specific book that Rossetti’s wombat “may have” inspired Carroll’s dormouse, because it’s neither written there nor true. In Volume I of Some Reminiscences, William Michael Rossetti describes some of the “beasts” Dante Gabriel kept in his garden, after which he describes his indoor pets:

From "Rossetti and his Circle" by Max Beerbohm. One of those animals is supposed to be a wombat.

…they were my brother’s companions day by day, and the wombat would follow at the housemaid’s heels when she went upstairs to make the beds. An anecdote is current of the wombat, and I accept it as only somewhat exaggerated – not untrue. My brother had asked, as he pretty often did, several friends to dinner; he himself never smoked, but for the satisfaction of his guests he had provided a box of superior cigars. The dinner over, he proceeded to produce the box. The box was there, but the cigars were gone: the wombat had made a meal of the entire assortment.

The Rossetti Family, photographed by Lewis Carroll (1863)

Hilarious! The wombat ate some fancy cigars. Sounds like a good party (except for the shortage of tobacco). He then goes on to describe several drawings of wombats by Edward Burne-Jones he owned, and of poetry by Christina Rossetti which mentions wombats as well. (“When wombats do inspire / I strike my disused lyre.”) Carroll is not mentioned in Volume I. Neither is any dormouse nor any of the Alice books ever mentioned in either volume of Some Reminiscences. In Volume II, William Michael Rossetti has one uninspiring paragraph about Carroll:

Lewis Carroll's photograph of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863)

One of the earliest of these [visiting authors] but I only saw him once or twice was the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, whom the English-speaking world knows under the name of Lewis Carroll. He was a skilful amateur photographer, and he took some few photographs of Dante Rossetti, and of other members of the family. He continued keeping up some little acquaintance with Christina till the close of her life, sending her his successive publications. My reminiscence of Mr. Dodgson is so slight and indeterminate that it would be vain to attempt any exactness of description. Suffice it to say that he impressed me mainly as belonging to the type of ” the University Man ” : a certain externalism of polite propriety, verging towards the conventional. I do not think he said in my presence anything ” funny ” or quaint.

The only mention of wombats in Volume II is a reference to his unsuccessful attempt to purchase one in Sydney.

So where did Martin Gardner learn that Rossetti’s wombat inspired Carroll’s Dormouse? I don’t know, but he didn’t invent the idea. That honor goes to the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown. The artist’s grandson, Ford M. Hueffer (who changed his name to Ford Madox Ford and became a 20th Century novelist) wrote the book on Madox Brown in 1896: Ford Madox Brown: a record of his life and work. He also describes the Rossetti zoo and some legendary parties:

The beast that made the greatest impression, at least on Madox Brown, was the singularly inactive marsupial known as the wombat – an animal that seems to have exercised a latent fascination on the Rossettian mind. On high days and holiday banquets it occupied a place of honour on the épergne in the centre of the table, where, with imperturbable equanimity, it would remain dormant. On one occasion, however, it belied its character. Descending unobserved, during a heated post-prandial discussion, it proceeded in leisurely fashion to devour the entire contents of a valuable box of cigars, achieving that feat just in time for the exhaustion of the subject under consideration and consequent attention to things mundane.

If Madox Brown may be believed, the wombat of Rossetti was the prototype of the dormouse in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’  the author of which beloved work was a frequent visitor of Rossetti’s household at Chelsea. The ‘ Alice ‘ books exercised an even greater fascination over Rossetti and for that matter over Madox Brown than the historic wombat had done …

Note Ford’s subtle skepticism of his grandfather’s word. I found the final nail in the coffin to the Wombat-Dormouse theory in a 2003 lecture by Angus Trumble, the Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia, Canberra. Trumble adds some Australian local knowledge to his scholarship, in a talk called “Rossetti’s Wombat: A Pre-Raphaelite Obsession in Victorian England.”

A crystal épergne ($160) from the Horchow Collection, 20"H x 17"W x 14 1/4"D. Adult wombats are approx. 39" long.

…James McNeill Whistler invented a silly story about how the wombat had perished after eating an entire box of cigars. Ford Madox Brown thought that Rossetti’s habit of bringing the wombat to dinner and letting it sleep in the large épergne or centrepiece on the dining room table inspired the dormouse in the tea-pot incident at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is also impossible because Lewis Carroll wrote that chapter in 1863, and the novel with its famous illustrations by John Tenniel was published two years later in 1865. As my colleague David Marshall has also pointed out, either Rossetti’s épergne was enormous, or the wombat was dramatically small.

He says “impossible,” because his research shows that Dante Rossetti had bought the first of his pet wombats in 1869. I don’t know how big an épergne usually is, but dormice certainly fit more easily into teapots than wombats do. Do wombats fit in teapots? Do teapots fit in wombats?

"Dormouse surnamed Dwanging," by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, c. 1834 (age 6), pencil on paper.

Several final discoveries about cute animals owned by Pre-Raphaelites before we go. One of the earliest drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was of a dormouse – he drew pictures of his pet dormouse named “Dwanging” when he was about six years old. It looks to me more like a cave painting than anything drawn by any pre-tween I know. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his family-letters, Vol. I, his brother also describes his pet hedgehog, which also hung out on the family dinner table.  So Dante was into pets long before he acquired his own large collection of strange creatures as an adult. What became of the wombat? It died.

"I never reared a young Wombat / To glad me with his pin-hole eye, / But when he most was sweet & fat / And tail-less; he was sure to die!" Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1869

"May I please sit on your épergne?"

American artist James McNeill Whistler’s version of the story (from this early biography) has the wombat skeleton discovered in the cigar box. (A humongous cigar box?) I wouldn’t attempt to guess how Rossetti’s wombat actually died, but eating tobacco is extremely poisonous. According to the Wikipedia, “The LD50 of nicotine is 50 mg/kg for rats and 3 mg/kg for mice. 0.5-1.0 mg/kg can be a lethal dosage for adult humans, and 10 mg (0.1mg/kg) for children.” A cigar contains around 150 mg of nicotine. Wombats weigh between 20 and 35 kg. Eating even a single cigar would very likely kill a wombat. Again, I’m not trying to perpetuate the theory that Rossetti’s wombat died from eating cigars at the dinner party in question. But either William Michael Rossetti’s anecdote is more than “only somewhat exaggerated,” or it didn’t end well for the wombat.

Europese Fotomontage: Mabel Odessey & Vladimir Clavijo-Telepnev

Before there was Instagram, people used chemical emulsifying processes to make their photographs look cool. An American artist named Mabel Odessey will have a site-specific installation at France’s Château de Lacaze from May 6 thru 30th, using the distinctly retro technique of pinhole photography. She described the show to us in an e-mail:

The photographs are made from marionettes made in the 1940s based on Tenniel illustrations. The installation will use different parts of the château to consider different aspects of the the Alice books. Visitors will descend (like Alice through the rabbit hole) into a cave like area where the photographs will pose questions of identity and perception. Visitors will then climb up to the mezzanine areas and consider the philosophical, and nonsense aspects of the books, another passageway will lead to the domain of the Queen of hearts and Carroll’s satirical look at Victorian society.

Lacaze is in the Southeast Tarn department of France. Mabel Odessey has many more galleries of her pinhole photography at her website www.mabelodessey.com. An article by Odessey and pictures from the installation will be featured in the Spring 2012 Knight Letter number 88, available to LCSNA members.

In Russia, a forty-year-old professional photographer named Vladimir Clavijo-Telepnev has also been creating beautiful old-fashion images of Alice. His series called Alice in Wonderland can be seen at his website here. There’s also a nice YouTube montage:

Washington Ballet photoshoot gives a taste of next month’s new Alice production

Washington Life, March 2012

The world premiere of Septime Webre’s ballet Alice (in Wonderland) in Washington, D.C., is less than a month away and Washington Life magazine is readying the town with a front cover photoshoot for their March edition. Sneak peak pictures are below and more can been seen online at Washington Life.

Also on the website is a behind-the-scenes account of the photoshoot, which involved trampolines, live white rabbits, and photographer Dean Alexander snapping the camera at just the right moment.

Alice (in Wonderland) will run April 11-15 at The Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater, Washington, D.C..

 

 

 

 

 

Alice Starring Maki Onuki (Photo Dean Alexander. Produced by Design Army)

Tweedledum Starring Nayon Iovino & Tweedledee Starring Corey Landolt (Photo Dean Alexander. Produced by Design Army

Xie Kitchin Asleep on Sofa in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

There’s a chance to see one of Charles Dodgson’s photographs up close at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston between now and August 5 this year. “Xie Kitchin Asleep on Sofa,” taken on July 14, 1873, is a recent acquisition by the museum and has been included in their new exhibition, Silver, Salt, and Sunlight: Early Photography in Britain and France. Other photographic pioneers celebrated include William Henry Fox Talbot, Edouard Baldus, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Francis Frith.

Salon.com has posted a slide show of exhibition highlights in an article entitled Postcards from the Dawn of Photography. The main article features an interview with Anne Havinga, the Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh senior curator of photographs at the museum. Havinga gives some interesting background to the exhibition and mentions Dodgson’s picture in particular: “…that’s our newest acquisition, so we’re very proud of it. Lewis Carroll’s work has a market beyond the photography world, so these images are expensive.”

The exhibition has also been reviewed by Mark Feeney for the Boston Globe.

Xie Kitchin Asleep on Sofa, Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Silver, Salt, and Sunlight: Early Photography in Britain and France
Museum of Fine Arts Boston from February 7 until August 19, 2012

Pictures from a wedding in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland is increasingly popular as a wedding theme on reality television and in life (one “credit crunch” bride has even described it as recession-defying). As ever, some couples go further than others. This week many blogs have been reposting these pictures of newlyweds Erin and Matt – a couple with a vision, to be sure. You can see many more pictures at BitRebels.

Wonderland Wedding 1

 

Wonderland Wedding 2
Wonderland Wedding 3