Daniel Cacouault worked on ‘Alice’ illustrations for three years and, surprising as it may seem, he notes that he was initially reluctant to engage with it. He is a successful and versatile illustrator, concept artist and artistic director who’s been creatively active for over thirty years. His output includes graphic novels, animation, cinema projects and video games. He has worked for Dreamworks, Disney, and Netflix, and is a teacher of visual rhetoric. Many of his works have been inspired by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm tales.
Daniel attributes his initial reluctance to illustrate ‘Alice’ to prejudices that likely stemmed from a proliferation of ‘Alice’ related content, including many visual interpretations in books, film and other media. It is not that Daniel disliked ‘Alice’, but he just was not her follower, he says in the Afterword to this edition. ‘Alice’ dawned on him regardless when Daniel Maghen (an owner of a gallery exhibiting modern art) has asked Daniel Cacouault to work on an exhibition of “Alice in Wonderland” art.
Daniel, the artist, agreed and so began his ‘Alice’ rite of passage, which in his words is almost obligatory for any illustrator. It manifested in magnificent art which was exhibited at Daniel Maghen Gallery in 2018. A year later, in 2019, French publisher Bragelonne has reproduced Daniel’s artworks in a masterpiece of a book, which is the subject of this post.
“One thing had intrigued me when I saw the classic images of Alice. It was as if she was visiting an extraordinary world, the inhabitants of which were not surprised by her presence. What if she was the trigger for all of these outliers? After all, this world comes from its own imagination. We learn it at the end, it was a dream. Alice is awake in her subconscious… One last element convinced me to attach myself to this text which was initially so unfamiliar to me”, wrote Daniel Cacouault in his Afterword to “Alice in Wonderland”. That last element was an interview with Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese animator, director, producer, screenwriter, author, and manga artist of international acclaim. When asked for what were the greatest books he read in his childhood Hayao Miyazaki responded that “Alice in Wonderland” was the one.
This edition is a work of art in itself. I am grateful to its publisher and designer for their decision to produce it in this huge format, which lends itself so well to Daniel’s magnificent art. At 37cm high, it is an inch higher than the largest book on my shelf (Rebecca Dautremer’s “Alice”). At the end of the book, there’s an Afterword by the French translator Maxime Le Dain and one by Daniel Cacouault. There’s also an article demonstrating his artistic process. The book is complemented with 6 beautiful prints of original artwork, stored in an envelope at the back.
I found the translator’s Afterword quite interesting. Maxime Le Dain refers to translating “Wonderland” as an impossible challenge, which Lewis Carroll himself would have been aware of. The French translation appeared in 1869 (four years after the original was published in England) and is said to have been prompted by Carroll’s own initiative. The first French translator of “Wonderland” was Henri Bué, son of Carroll’s Oxford colleague. Carroll is said to have acknowledged the challenges for translation, in particular in regards to the poems and rhyming parodies. Carroll has allegedly expressed his gratitude to Heri Bué for replacing original parodies with Bué’s own compositions and for replacing the English wordplay and puns with French ones while keeping the spirit of wordplay alive.
Daniel Cacouault notef that he drew inspiration for ‘Alice’ from the aesthetics of Pre-Raphaelites, an artistic movement that originated in Britain around the mid-1850’s and was thus contemporary to Carroll. His art is breathtakingly beautiful. He is great at painting light, textures, contrasts and movement. I’m in love with the sublime dreamy settings lit with the shimmering Wonderland sunlight. The below gallery shows some close-ups and zoomed-in fragments. The roses are a tromp l’oiel illusion of real flowers, the dark and light of the skies is in dramatic contrast with the rocks, chiaroscuro used to great effect in dark spaces with spotlight on the scene. Mesmerising mushrooms, plants and flowers of Wonderland tower over Alice (diminished in size) who is gazing up towards the sunlight shimmering through totally psychedelic mushroom heads. Is Alice drawing a puff of smoke from the Caterpillar’s hookah or am I seeing things? (an unconventional behavior for this otherwise sensible child 🙂
It is a pleasure to behold this sumptuous book whether you do or don’t quite (like myself) read French.
To browse other editions from my collection of illustrated “Alice in Wonderland” click here. To browse other editions of illustrated “Through the Looking-Glass” click here.
What are you favourite versions of illustrated ‘Alice’? Comment below,