Charles Blackman / Australia 1928–2018 / The Blue Alice 1956–57 / Tempera, oil and household enamel on board / 122 x 122cm / Purchased 2000. The Queensland Government’s special Centenary Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Charles Raymond Blackman/Licensed by Viscopy

Charles Blackman
The Blue Alice 1956–1957

Not Currently on Display

The Blue Alice is a major work from the important first series of 41 paintings by Charles Blackman, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s books Alice’s adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872). The Blue Alice is not identified with any specific episode from Lewis Carroll’s books, but testifies more generally to the delicious unreality that pervades his stories.

In The Blue Alice we see Alice in the company of an animal with the White Rabbit’s distinctive white coat, but the long ears of the March Hare from, ‘A mad tea-party’ (chapter 7). The Dormouse is visible in three places: just behind Alice on the right; sitting on the chair on the left; and, again, in a fragmentary and monstrous form, underneath the same chair.

Alice floats in a sea of brilliant white flowers, possibly suggested by the beautiful ‘Garden of Live Flowers’ (chapter 2) from Through the Looking Glass. Like many of the female characters in Blackman’s paintings, Alice’s eyes are closed, giving reference to his wife, Barbara Blackman, who was blind. Her courageous struggle with progressive blindness deeply impressed Charles, who saw her attempts to interpret the world as parallel to Alice’s efforts to conquer the mysterious circumstances in which she found herself.

Blackman’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series is a good example of a body of work exploring a particular theme. Blackman’s personal interpretation of both Alice’s experiences and the characters from the story, were a springboard for his own reflections on his wife’s experiences and courage. Each painting places Alice in differing situations evoking various emotive responses. They are not merely illustrations of the story but scenarios filled with personal symbolism; the various stimuli of Surrealism, Barbara’s blindness and Alice’s adventure.

Born in Sydney, Charles Blackman left school before the age of 14. From 1942 until 1947, he worked in the art department of The Sun newspaper, taking evening classes at East Sydney Technical College and at the Meldrum school of painting.

In early 1948, Blackman hitchhiked to Brisbane, where he met many young artists and writers, including the woman he would later marry, Barbara Patterson, who influenced his artistic development. In Brisbane, he was introduced to the work of modern European masters through colour reproductions available in libraries. He was also influenced by an exhibition of Sidney Nolan’s paintings, inspired by Fraser Island.

In the early 1950s, John and Sunday Reed were among the first collectors of Blackman’s work. Sunday Reed introduced him to the poetry of John Shaw Neilson, which informed his compelling ‘Schoolgirl’ series, while his remarkable ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series is infused with references to life at Heide, where the Reeds lived. In 1997, Blackman was awarded an Order of the British Empire for his services to art.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think this artwork is about? Do you know the story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Discuss as a group what you know about the story.

2. Consider Alice’s facial expression, white dress, stiff, leaning stance, and the visual language used to transform the Dormouse. What is your emotional response to the work? Is your interpretation of these signifiers different to others?

3. Think of some other stories that you know that feature characters that are animals. Share with a friend.


1. Why did Blackman choose to depict his wife as the character of Alice from the book, Alice in Wonderland? Research Blackman’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series and identify how he used paintings as a means of referencing his wife’s determination and strength.

2. Choose a person who you consider to be courageous. Research their experiences. From their story try to identify some tangible objects, landscapes or characters that are symbolic of the courage of your subject. Develop the studies into a painting to pay homage to this courageous person.

3. Paint a scene influenced by a book you have read. Write an artist’s statement to explain how this book has influenced you.

4. Draw a picture of a recent dream you had. Write a few sentences underneath to explain your illustration.

5. Look closely at the pattern of white flowers behind Alice in the painting. Create your own pattern in response to the theme of ‘wonderland’.

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