Salvador Dalí Illustrated Alice in Wonderland -- and Yale's Beineke Library Has a Limited Edition | Connecticut Public Radio

Salvador Dalí Illustrated Alice in Wonderland -- and Yale's Beineke Library Has a Limited Edition

Aug 31, 2015

Twelve wild, colorful, images hearken back to Dalí's work from the 1930s and '40s.

Among the 176 items associated with Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventure in Wonderland at Yale's Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is a limited edition of the book signed and illustrated by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí.

During the counterculture and psychedelic movement of the '60s and '70s, Salvador Dalí's career was resurrected by a new generation of art lovers who were drawn to his surrealistic images.

The drug culture also re-discovered Lewis Carroll's fantasy novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, thanks in part to Jefferson Airplane's hit song "White Rabbit": 

One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall.

Book publisher Random House saw the potential in bringing Carroll and Dalí together, and convinced the artist to illustrate the title pages of each chapter of Alice.

"In the '60s there was this reaction against the rigid, rationalist world they were living in, and all of the exploring, and Lewis Carroll becomes a hero to a lot of people," Beineke curator Kevin Repp said. "So that's why I think Dalí made perfect sense in the '60s."

Dalí hearkens back to his iconic "The Persistence of Memory" for the title page of chapter seven, "Mad Tea Party."
Credit Salvador Dalí / Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Dalí set to work illustrating the 12 chapters of Alice in 1969, using gouache, a type of watercolor. The result is 12 wild, colorful, images, some that hearken back to his work from the 1930s and 1940s.

"Iconic pieces from the past, including the melting watch from 'The Persistence of [Memory],'" said Beineke curator Tim Young. "More specifically, one of the prints is of a little girl with a jump rope, that's actually a picture he's drawn many times, and it becomes the image of Alice."

Random House decided on a limited run on the book, and issued 2500 standard editions and 500 deluxe editions of the book. Tim Young says they were pricey for the time -- $375 retail for the standard edition.

"But that made it something that was within the reach of somebody who wanted to have a Dalí work," Young said. "Because at least the etching at the beginning of every copy was signed by Dalí, so if you owned this, you actually had a piece of work that Dalí himself had actually touched and signed."

Young said the 1969 standard editions in good condition now sell for thousands of dollars.

During the Beineke's major renovation, people will have to go to Yale's Sterling Library to view Dalí's illustrations in Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Correction: An earlier version of this report referred to Salvador Dalí's "Persistence of Time." The correct title is "Persistence of Memory."