Alice in Wonderland (Central Park)

The web page for the proposed Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument states that the proposed sculpture  will be the first figurative piece in Central Park to depict real women. I’d like to point out, in a polite, non-confrontational way, that Central Park has four sculptures honoring women. They are not portrait sculptures, but they evoke the achievements of the women who inspired them more than any portrait sculpture would have. This is second in a series of three posts. The first post is on the Burnett Fountain, the third on the Loeb Fountain.

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

  • Alice in Wonderland, formally the Margarita Delacorte Memorial
  • Date: 1959
  • Sculptor: Jose de Creeft
  • Medium & size: Bronze, 11 feet.
  • Location: Central Park, north of the Conservatory Pond, on axis with 75th St.

One lazy July afternoon in 1862, in a rowboat on the Thames, a mild-mannered professor of mathematics improvised a nonsensical story to amuse his boss’s daughters. At the insistence of ten-year-old Alice Liddell, he eventually presented her with a manuscript version illustrated with his own drawings. (It’s now at the British Library: image below.) Then, at the urging of his grown-up friends, he doubled the length and paid for its publication. Diffident Professor Dodgson avoided publicity for Alice in Wonderland and several other deliriously silly books by writing under the pseudonym “Lewis Carroll”.

Left: The manuscript of “Alice’s Adventures Underground” given by Dodgson to Alice Liddell, now at the British Library. Right: one of Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.

In Wonderland, when Alice picks up a bottle labeled “Drink me,” she looks to see if it’s labeled poison, “because she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them.” Until the mid-19th century, most children’s literature was didactic. It treated young people as adults-in-training, to be constantly bombarded with facts and moral lessons.

A didactic poem from G.W. Cottrell’s Rhymes for the Nursery, 1837.

Alice in Wonderland was a new sort of children’s book, written with no other goal than to entertain. It seems fitting that Jose de Creeft designed his Alice sculpture for kids to climb, perch, and dangle on.

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2002 Dianne L. Durante

Creeft’s figures are based on the illustrations for the first edition of Alice, commissioned by Dodgson from political cartoonist John Tenniel.

Jose de Creeft, the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

Creeft’s Hatter bears a strong resemblance to Tenniel’s character, but also to George Delacorte: see the Getty photo here. Delacorte  (6/20/1894-5/4/1991) donated the sculpture Alice in Wonderland to Central Park in honor of his late wife, Margarita, who loved reading the Alice stories to their children. Margarita’s name is incised and gilded at the base of the sculpture.

Base of Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

Plaque near base of Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

The six plaques around the base of the sculpture are Margarita’s favorite bits from Alice’s adventures.

Jabberwocky and Tweedledum and Tweedledee are visiting from Alice Through the Looking-Glass.

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

Tenniel’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

The Mock Turtle, who never goes on a journey without a porpoise, sings with disturbing fervor about the tastiness of Mock Turtle Soup.

Tenniel’s Mock Turtle

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

The Duchess’s advice on child-rearing is so bizarre that it serves her right (doesn’t it?) that her child turns into a pig. Rather a handsome pig, though.

Tenniel’s Duchess, with baby

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

The poem read by the White Rabbit, prosecuting attorney at the trial of the Knave of Hearts, has the fearsome illogic of psychedelic rock.

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

The final poem is the one with which the Mad Hatter murdered Time at the Queen of Hearts’s concert. Here’s the Knave on trial.

Tenniel’s image of the Knave on trial

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

A few more photos

Jose de Creeft, Alice and Dinah from Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, 1959. Central Park, New York. Photo copyright © 2002 Dianne L. Durante

Jose de Creeft, Alice in Wonderland, with a view of the skyscrapers at Central Park South and beyond. Photo copyright © 2017 Dianne L. Durante

More

  • George Delacorte also donated to Central Park the wonderful Delacorte Clock, near the Children’s Zoo (see ForgottenDelights.com, with a bit more about Delacorte’s career) and the Delacorte Theater, near the Belvedere, where Shakespeare in the Park performances are held during the summer.
  • The page on Alice in Wonderland on Forgotten Delights includes another frightening poem from Cottrell.
  • Want wonderful art delivered weekly to your inbox? Members of my free Sunday Recommendations list (email DuranteDianne@gmail.com) receive three art-related suggestions every week: check out my favorites from last year’s recommendations. For more goodies, check out my Patreon page.

About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, From Portraits to Puddles, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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