For a minute or two she stood looking at the house, and wondering what to do next, when suddenly a footman in livery came running out of the wood— (she considered him to be a footman because he was in livery: otherwise, judging by his face only, she would have called him a fish)—and rapped […]
For a minute or two she stood looking at the house, and wondering what to do next, when suddenly a footman in livery came running out of the wood— (she considered him to be a footman because he was in livery: otherwise, judging by his face only, she would have called him a fish)—and rapped loudly at the door with his knuckles. It was opened by another footman in livery, with a round face and large eyes like a frog; and both footmen, Alice noticed, had powdered hair that curled all over their heads.
Leaving behind the caterpillar and having gone back to her correct size after a brief and unfriendly encounter with a pigeon, Alice reaches the house of a character that’s often scraped and overlooked, in one of the most disturbing scenes of the whole book: the Duchess and her pig-child.
Before reaching her, however, we make the acquaintance of some other explicitly anthropomorphic characters in the book: the Fish-Footman and the Frog-Footman (although the fish is sometimes referred to as “the Fish-Postman” since he carries a letter).
Their livery is not described in detail but we do know that they have powdered hair, a detail most of the illustrators treating this scene decide to include.
John Tenniel himself sets the trend, as it often happens, by choosing one of the two main scenes: the one where the fish arrives and delivers an invitation for the Duchess to go and play croquet with the Queen.
Being the master of satire he is, he’s having a lot of fun in dressing animals with fancy clothes: a great deal of attention is put into the headdresses, liveries, and jackets, poses, especially in the two characters’ feet.
There’s plenty of coloured versions for this illustration: I picked one.
Some of the other illustrators decide to follow Tenniel and give us the two characters exchanging mail, often in the header of the chapter which is titled “Pig and Pepper”. This is the case of Will Pogany, for instance (remember Jazzy Alice?). He puts in a nice touch, if you notice, as the tails of the fish’s jacket is the tail of the fish itself and his livery has scales just as much as the frog’s has warts.
Another header for the chapter is provided by Gwynedd M. Hudson, but I was unfortunately unable to find a non-watermarked version of the picture. It’s the usual black and orange one, with a quite elegant fish indeed.
Another interesting piece is this tile, part of a series of eight subjects produced by the Grueby Faience Company in 1910 and used to tile the mantel above the fireplace in the children’s room at the Carnegie West Branch Library.
The other scene some artists decide to illustrate features just the frog and Alice inquiring as to what’s inside the house. It’s the case of our Arthur Rackham, with a quite bemused footman who clearly doesn’t approve of the confusion the Duchess and her cook are creating inside the house (but more of that next Sunday, I believe).
A beautiful version of this scene is produced by Jackson, whose colours and attention to details always amaze me.
The frog isn’t much (although we might compare the way he’s sitting to the way Toad of Toad Hall finds himself sitting in the middle of the street after seeing his first car, I talked about it here), but let’s talk about the decorations of the Duchess’ house.
To give a fish what’s due, he’s also considered individually by some other illustrators and you can find some sketches for the Disney cartoon that never was: they seem to suggest some of the scenes should have taken place underwater.
When it comes to contemporary illustrators, some follow down the path of Tenniel and some other run rampant doing something completely different. John Vernon Lord decides to tangle up the frog and the fish by their wig (original illustration here) and also chooses details of their liveries based on their nature, especially when it comes to the scaly one for the fish.
A similar path is chosen by Rodney Matthews, possibly one of my favourite contemporary illustrators for Alice in Wonderland (original here): the fish is a lovecraftian creature, the attention to detail is amazing.
More interesting because of the setting is Maggie Taylor‘s work: I already mentioned her and you can find an article about her work here (in Italian, so my English-speaking friends will have to ask Google). She exhibited in Milan in 2012 and her work is amazing. In this scene, the setting is almost a nuclear fallout, as it happens in loads and loads of her illustrations for Alice. Her website is here.
Another interesting piece is this one, by Andrea D’Aquino. I didn’t know the artist and I discovered him here. All his works are mixed media, with the usage of fabric-like patterns and textures.
If you want to take a look at some really weird stuff, however, I suggest you take your time to browse through Instagram via this hashtag watcher because, for some reason, the fish footman is not that popular in illustrations but is quite popular in physical props and gadgets.
I’d like to draw your attention, for instance, to this headdress by @jefferywestuk, published by @circogringo around 6 months ago. The piece was based on the illustration by Henry Louis Stephens (1824-1882) to Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin, which are delightfully creepy as fuck.
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