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Original Alice in Wonderland illustrations on show in new Bury exhibition

PUBLISHED: 11:00 11 July 2019

Alice encounters the caterpillar by John Tenniel  Photo: Moyses Hall

Alice encounters the caterpillar by John Tenniel Photo: Moyses Hall

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Relive the childhood classic by seeing Punch artist John Tenniel's stunning pictures at Moyse's Hall Museum.

John Tenniel's drawing of the White Rabbit who leads Alice into Wonderland Photo: Moyses HallJohn Tenniel's drawing of the White Rabbit who leads Alice into Wonderland Photo: Moyses Hall

The book-loving, art-loving, nostalgia-loving people of Suffolk are being invited to disappear down the rabbit hole this summer in Bury St Edmunds.

As the latest event in the museum's specialist exhibitions series Moyse's Hall have curated a 'curiouser and curiouser' collection of the unique and imaginative drawings from John Tenniel's original Alice in Wonderland illustrations which are being displayed along with a number of other great artefacts from the world of children's literature.

Tenniel's beautiful drawings originate from the first ever editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, published in 1865, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, which followed in 1872. Artist John Tenniel, who worked as a political cartoonist for Punch Magazine, was approached by Carroll with the request for him to illustrate a small nonsense book for children that he wished to publish.

These stories were an instant hit with children, and adults a-like, and by the end of the 19th century Sir Walter Besant wrote that Alice in Wonderland "was a book of that extremely rare kind which will belong to all the generations to come until the language becomes obsolete".

John Tenniel's illustration of Alice with the bottle marked 'Drink Me' Photo: Moyses HallJohn Tenniel's illustration of Alice with the bottle marked 'Drink Me' Photo: Moyses Hall

Curator Daniel Clarke said that it was a real thrill to play host to such iconic drawings. "The drawings were an important part of the success of the books and it's a real privilege to have those original drawings on display this summer."

The book has inspired numerous film, television and theatrical adaptations and, despite there now being many hundreds of artistic depictions of Alice, Tenniel's remain the definitive ones because of Tenniel's distinctive style.

"Tenniel worked with an engraver on the book and the result of their work together are some of the most important book illustrations of the Victorian era. Clearly, these were a hugely influential drawings when it came to the illustrations of children's books but Tenniel was also an important part of the success of Punch magazine. He was one of the biggest names associated with the political cartoon and the thing I really love about Tenniel is his ability to play with the grotesque style where abnormalities can question the reality of a situation.

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"It's a talent that serves him well both in the world of satire and in his fantasy book illustrations and it would have been something that certainly would have appealed to Punch-reading Lewis Carroll as he looked for an illustrator to do the Wonderland novels.

"There is talk that Carroll, originally wanted to illustrate the books himself, but good friends may have suggested that, perhaps his work wasn't quite up to scratch, and he should get a professional illustrator which is what led him to Tenniel."

He said that the drawings have become so iconic that they have influenced the visuals on every adaptation which has followed, even up to the present day and Tim Burton's most recent big screen take on the story.

After the projects were finished Tenniel was approached by Carroll to undertake another project and he replied: "It is a curious fact that with "Looking-Glass" the faculty of making drawings for book illustrations departed from me, and ... I have done nothing in that direction since".

The Looking in Wonderland exhibition, on show at Moyse's Hall Museum, will host a selection of the best illustrations from both books, about half of the complete collection, and some additional items associated with the stories.

These will be displayed alongside the 'A Summer of Stories' collection - a selection of other first edition children's books, illustrations and memorabilia. Visitors will step inside the pages of classic children's literature with the chance to see a fascinating array of objects from the heritage collections, all themed to bring to life the beloved tales of authors such as Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter.

In addition to the memorabilia, rare and collectable editions, there will be a healthy dose of magic to engage and inspire children of all ages along with lectures, workshops and performances throughout the exhibition.

The exhibition is running until Sunday September 1.

Standard admission to Moyse's Hall applies: £5 for adults, £3 for children and £15 for a family ticket. If you want to experience the brilliant offers all year round you can purchase a Heritage Ticket for just £12 for adults, £6 for children and £40 for a family.

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