Alice in Wonderland's Best Art History Doppelgangers

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66 years ago today, the world was introduced to the psychedelic masterpiece that is Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Although we have Lewis Carroll to thank for putting magic mushrooms and a hookah-smoking caterpillar in a kid's book, the 1951 film adaptation brought Wonderland's trippy delights to the big screen. In celebration, here are art's most uncanny matches for the characters we know and love.

1. Alice as this soulless lass, from Lilly Martin Spencer's Will you Have Some Fruit

Spencer may have intended Will You Have Some Fruit? to be cute, but the sinister child pictured looks a tad too cunning for an innocent schoolgirl. The berries she offers are probably laced with poison, likely intended for the ill-fated pet bird before her. Ominous aura aside, she’s a dead ringer for Alice. After all, for a children’s movie, Alice in Wonderland was full of sketchy snacks. Who could forget the "eat me" cakes and Alice's questionable mushroom consumption? Whether or not you consider the "drink me" potion a gateway drug, Alice's journey through the rabbit hole brought her trippy visions, kooky companions, and more than a couple nibbles you can bet would be banned by the FDA.

The uncanny resemblance between Alice and this tyke is enough to assure us the pictured fruit isn't an innocuous handful of cherries. Words of wisdom: when encountering a young blonde in blue, run for the hills. This is one snack we're happy to pass up.

2. The Queen of Hearts as Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar, by Philippe-Auguste Ramanankirahina

Madagascar is an island known for its vanilla beans, pepper, and the cast of zany animal characters voiced by American celebrities. Lesser known are the equally zany psychos who’ve ruled over the East African island and none are more psychotic than Queen Ranavalona I. Fittingly enough, Queen Ranavalona rose to power following the death of her adoptive father and finalist for the world’s most metal death: King Andrianampoinimerina. How did he die, you ask? He cut his own throat following an immensely painful mashup of syphilis and cirrhosis which is only slightly better than the unholy mashup of ice-cream and bacon society keeps tentatively accepting for some reason.

Of course I’m still going to eat it. Sue me.

Hoping not to lose any of that sweet butt-warmth from her adoptive father’s former throne, Ranavalona quickly went to work annihilating all who opposed her to claim to the kingdom. Following her ‘you can’t spell laughter without slaughter!’ campaign, Ranavalona took the throne and began an awful combination of benevolence and brutality. Ranavalona was a nationalist xenophobe who would regularly kill and display the severed heads of Europeans or those who supported Europeans. If you weren’t killed for your beliefs, you would end up dead in one of her famous military campaigns across Madagascar and Africa. If you didn’t die in either of those two, you would have probably died during her famous buffalo hunt in which ten thousand citizens died and, ironically, zero buffalo. At the end of her reign, more than 75% of her constituents were dead and she was given the moniker ‘Ranavalona the Cruel,’ the perfect name for the real-world equivalent of the Queen of Hearts.

3. The Mad Hatter as James Ensor in his Self-Portrait with Masks

Having tea with a borderline psychotic hatter and anxiety-ridden rabbit is only marginally better when you replace them with a horde of schizophrenic masks. At least the masks won't spill your suspiciously murky tea everywhere.

If you happen to let slip your political preferences at the tea table, though, James Ensor sure might.

Ensor was a Belgian artist who painted this treasure of a selfie called Self-Portrait with Masks in the late 19th century. 

James Ensor, the fine gentleman in the middle, fits the bill of Mad Hatter pretty well. Not only does he rock a hat redder than the Queen of Heart's roses, but he also made his peers uncomfortable by drawing with poop, asking to reapply women's lipstick for them after tea, and painting absurd images of grotesque masks and skeletons fighting over a pickled herring.

Skeletons Fighting Over a Pickled Herring at the MOMA

He also dabbled in anarchism, which would explain his insane parties in the middle of nowhere, far from the reaches of the empire, spewing aphorisms that may or may not have helped Alice in her journey.  Forget the stammering Depp-version with puppy-dog eyes. Forget the actual milliners of the 19th century, who got mercury poisoning from making hats 24/7. Ensor reminds us mostly of the original, overbearing, logic-persecuting Mad Hatter that could empty a formal tea room with a tip of his hat.

Oh my, now we’re feeling thirsty (hungry???).

4. Tweedledee and Tweedledum as A Boy and a Girl with an Eel by Judith Leyster in the National Gallery London

Those maniacal grins paired with such a jovial partner pose can only mean one thing. Although these raucous besties are in dire need of some coordinated costumes and plump bellies (probably lurking underneath their 17th century garb), as far as I’m concerned, we have a verifiable Tweedledee and Tweedledum on our hands who seem poised to leap into a synchronized rendition of “How d’ye do and Shake Hands” at a moment’s notice. If you take a tip from the film and eat some questionable baked goods, you might even be able to see them exit the painting and perform their own brand of hallucinogenic antics right before your very eyes.

I know Judith Leyster was probably mildly inebriated most of the time, if her trend of painting ragers and drunken antics is any indicator. Leyster definitely took inspo from Lewis Carroll for her A Boy and a Girl with an Eel, which is meant to be read as a visual parable for something along the lines of, “vaguely adult looking children who taunt chill cats are going to get scratched”—the Cheshire cat here looks poised to claw his way out of that chubby forearm one way or another.

Tweedledee and Tweedledum use words to convey their cautionary tales, while these two nincompoops act it out with their own dramatic flair. It raises the question: did anyone ask for this advice? Or are they, like their animated counterparts, truly just slowing people down. Can’t anyone chase white rabbits in peace anymore?!

By Lara, Rose, Claudia, and Austin

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Lara Heard


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