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We know that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is obsessed with time, with its ‘late’ rabbit pictured examining his pocket watch, engraved by Dalziel after John Tenniel (see no. 2 in gallery above). The Mad Hatter claims to know Time intimately and to whisper hints to ‘him’. This section of the exhibition looks at several time-related images made by Dalziel, with particular focus on the isolated moment.

The first three wood engravings examine the clock and watch as objects. Alongside the white rabbit, there is an image after Alfred Bayes of a little girl visiting a watchmaker, from a picture book called The Book of Trades (1867). The third wood engraving is for a spelling book, a watch to illustrate the letter ‘W’. It is presented to the reader tilted, so that twelve isn’t at the top. This disrupts the fixed poles of noon and midnight, giving an insight into the different ways people perceived time before the wrist watch became dominant.

Following these, images four to thirteen each picture a single, suspended moment. In the 1860s, photographers were still developing techniques fast enough to freeze time, and could not capture falling or fast-moving objects. In contrast, these illustrations halt time effectively, asserting the technical dominance that wood engraving still had over photography. Several of them show people or animals in the act of falling or leaping. There are the playing cards that arc in the air above Alice’s head (no. 10); the falling shoe from Dalziel’s Illustrated Arabian Nights Entertainment (no. 12); or a wood engraving of the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe (no. 8) that depicts a momentary tension in a bending wooden pole.

The last four images complicate the vision of time we’ve seen so far. They include an image of electric telegraph apparatus (no. 15) – a marvellous new technology for instantaneous communication; a print in which the woodblock had to be altered because it had pictured time incorrectly (no. 14); and finally, two rather different images that celebrate slowness.


Bethan Stevens

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