“…Metamorphosis is presented to us as a unique way for man to widen his horizons, like a liberation of humanity”. Maurice Blanchot
Alice in Wonderland…
is one of Dalí’s most recognizable images, interpreted both in graphic and sculptural form. The girl with the skipping rope in a dreamlike landscape, an enigmatic icon found throughout Dalí’s oeuvre. Here, Dalí portrays Alice’s innocence and naivety, he created Alice’s silhouette holding a skipping rope frozen in motion above her head, her hands and hair blossoming into roses, symbolizing feminine beauty and eternal youth. The crutch symbolizes stability, it gives her emotional support, acting as a link back to reality.
…falls asleep and dreams in Lewis Carroll’s book…
Dalí was drawn to both the incredible story line and the extravagant characters in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 tale. In the story, Alice falls asleep and dreams of falling down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of magic ‘drink-me’ potions, eccentric creatures and absurd realities. For Dalí, she was the eternal girl-child, naive and innocent.
Alice’s story begins in 1865, when Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson published a book about a small girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole. It was an invented fairytale he created to amuse his acquaintance Alice Liddell and her sisters. Thus the world was introduced to Alice and her pseudonymous creator, Lewis Carroll.
Almost one hundred years later in 1968, Dalí was commissioned by publishers Random House to illustrate Carroll’s fairytale. The resulting 12 graphics he created, with titles such as Who Stole the Tarts and Down the Rabbit Hole are bizarre and eccentric; full of double meanings and surreal almost nightmarish imaginings.
…she appears as a girl with a skipping rope…
The image of a girl with the rope first appeared in Dalí’s oeuvre in the 1930’s, he repeated the image in several oil paintings from the 1930s: Morphological Echo (1935), Nostalgic Echo (1935), Suburbs of a Paranoiac-Critical Town: Afternoon on the Outskirts of European History (1935) and Landscape with Girl Skipping Rope (1936).
In these oils, Dalí depicts a female figure in a long white dress, moving with her arms raised, holding a rope in her hands which casts a long shadow behind her.
The figure here in these paintings, has traits similar to those girls figures that he painted in works through the 1930s, entitled; Paranoiac-astral image (1934), Moments of Transition (1934), Forgotten Horizon (1936) and A chemist lifting with extreme precaution the cuticle of a grand piano (1936).
Each of these works, depict a female figure in motion, with her head inclined, her long robes giving the figure a fragile dimension.
The woman depicted is based on Carolineta Barnadas Ferres, nicknamed Carolineta, the daughter of Dalí’s grandmother’s sister (his Great Aunt). In 1914, when Dalí was 10 years old, Carolineta tragically died of meningitis. It was a dramatic moment for the family. Dalí processed his grief later in the 1930s, when he started to illustrate the figure of Carolineta on canvas; she was always dressed in white, like an apparition.
In some works, Dalí decided to illustrate Carolineta as an eternal -child, skipping, full of energy and vitality. Dalí changes her name to Alice, she is illustrated in the act of skipping; the skipping rope offers a contrary sense of perpetual motion, that mirror eternal femininity, youthfulness, time is suspended between reality and fantasy.
The concept of the double image and metamorphosis, are two aspects that Dalí knew how create side by side in the sculpture Alice in Wonderland.
It celebrates two of the most innovative and provocative concepts that Dalí uses throughout his artistic production. Observing this sculpture, we see Alice as she appears in the painting Morphological Echo (1935); vice versa, if we observe close up, it’s possible to see her ‘ double ‘ character, in the hands and face, that appear like flowering roses.
Dalí defines this as the double image, “the image which suggests or turns into a second image either at first glance or on being stared at intently”.
…heredity of the fascination of Arcimboldo’s images…
The concept of the ‘double image’ has its origin in painting from the 1500s, and in particular that of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the Italian painter who lived between 1526 and 1593.
The French philosopher Jacques Lacan described him as the author of “piège à regard”,creating deceptive optical illusions aimed at representing the invisible.
In creating the sculpture of Alice, Dalí took inspiration from the work of Arcimboldo Four Seasons (1573); he amplifies the concept of ‘double meaning’ making it triple and multiple In fact, observing the sculpture from a close viewpoint, the lines traced on the face seem like age wrinkles.
The sculpture has a new significance, ‘opposite’. Because the sculpture acquires a new meaning, as the theme of youth changes in old age; with the use of the same concept that Dalì applied in the realization of the painting Old age, adolescence, infancy (1940) and Slave market (with the appearance of the invisible bust of Voltaire) (1940).
…anamorphoses become metamorphosis…
The phenomenon of metamorphoses represents for Dalí -the keystone of my future esthetic- since, according to Dalí, it allows continuous changes in the original image, which appear in different forms and, by living its continuous evolution, generates a continuous pleasure.
“The astonishing thing about this phenomenon” said Dalí, “was that having once seen one of these images I could always thereafter see it again at the mere dictate of my will, and not only in its original from but almost always further corrected and augmented in such a manner that its improvement was instantaneous and automatic.”
…and the youth becomes old age, always eternal…
Metamorphosis allows the viewer to see at a close distance, a different aspect of opposite, that generates new meaning. In the Dalinian dimension, often opposites cohabit together in the same artwork. In the sculpture Snail and the Angel (1977) for example, the two opposites are as hard/ soft. Alice in Wonderland (1977) illustrates two concurrent themes of youthfulness and old age, that accompany Dalí throughout his life.
“I adored old age!” said Dalí,“as a child I adored that noble prestige of old people, and I would have given all my body to become like them, to grow old immediately!”
Under this new theory, even the crutch next to Alice seems to acquire a new significance and becomes a source of support not only for the figure but also for the soul, the soul of the young girl, that gains as she ages, a purer form.
As Dalí wrote: “Let the labyrinth of wrinkles be furrowed in my brow with the red-hot iron of my life…and my step become vacillating, on condition that I can save the intelligence of my soul-let my unformed childhood soul, as it ages, assume the rational and esthetic forms of an architecture, let me learn just everything that others cannot teach me, what only life would be capable of marking deeply in my skin!”
For Dalí, youth and old age in the Alice in Wonderland sculpture constitute ‘ a unique togetherness.’ Dali wrote “For in my mind desire and science were but one single and unique thing and I already knew that only the prosperity and then the wear and decline of the flesh could bring me illuminations or resurrection”.
The Crutch, symbolises another kind of dualism, made up of two opposing parts, symbolizing death and resurrection. The symbolic unitarily of the crutch originates in the same definition that Dalí gave, “symbol of death” and the “symbol of resurrection!”
…she leaves a long shadow on the path…
In Dalí’s artworks, the Alice figure appears often on a stretch of sandy plain which seems desert-like. Her shadow projected onto the ground, has a sharp outline, created from the combination of the light sand and the dark figure. Long shadows, infinite distances, converging lines that meet in the distance remind us of the metaphysical painting of Giorgio De Chirico , whom Dalí was interested in during the 1920s.
The metaphysical school bought Dalí to explore “the deeper roots of man’s existence” and De Chirico, for Dalí “was a phenomenon of absolute genius”, he had a preponderant influence on the Catalan artist for being a pioneer in the use of “deep perspective, sharp mysterious shadows and evocative grouping of enigmatic or incongruous objects”.
In the sculpture Alice in Wonderland, the girl’s body appears tall, her length emphasized by the position of the skipping rope up high. Also the crutch is in a vertical stance. Dali says “Long-live mystical Spanish verticalism ….verticality as rising in the sky”.
In this vertical position, Alice appears like a meridian line who marks time that passes with its long shadow that moves, its long shadow projected on to ground.
Her shadow becomes the element that permits Alice to go back to reality and to measure time that has passed, thanks to the stability offered by the crutch.
…towards the third dimension…
Regarding the theme of shadows, certainly the third dimension offered Dalí total expressiveness. The light is no longer defined and fixed on the canvas but becomes changeable depending on the light source that illuminates the sculpture and projects its shadow onto the surfaces that are part of the context in which the work is observed.
Light and shadow allow us to perceive the sculpture Alice in Wonderland in its most complete communicative capacity. The same sculptural work, which the Dalí Universe has exhibited and continues to show in many places around the world, will be able to evoke ever different emotions to the observer, also in relation to the lights and shadows that reshape the entire composition.
A monumental version of this sculpture, standing five meters tall, is on exhibit in Courchevel, in the French Alps, one of seven bronze Dalí sculptures in the snowy resort until March this year. Over the last 30 years, monumental sculptures from this Collection have been exhibited in most important cities around the world, like Rome, London, Beijing, Singapore, Sydney and Hong Kong.
In the sculpture Alice in Wonderland, Dalí wished to show a different reality, creating a singular poetic effect thanks to the connection between the surreal and real world. The figure of Alice is part of a visual and symbolic repertoire that Dalí uses constantly through his artistic heritage.
This sculpture communicates Dalí’s character, his obsessions, his fears, his passions and is a fitting celebration honoring the creations of an artist who still continues to inspire and captivate the public all over the world.
Diary of a Genius, Salvador Dalí, 1963 / Diary of a Genius, Salvador Dalí, Introductory Essay by JB Ballard, 2017
The secret life of Salvador Dalí, Dalí, 1942
Salvador Dalí : The Museum of Modern Art, JT Soby, 1946
Dada e Surrealismo Dal Nulla al Sogno, Marco Vallora, 2018
Catalogue Raisonné of Salvador Dalí Paintings (https://www.salvador-dali.org)
Documentary Dali Talks: Dali and the Dead, The Dali Museum, 2018