Charles Blackman’s ‘The Blue Alice’

Charles Blackman, Australia b.1928 / The Blue Alice 1956-57 / Tempera, oil and household enamel on composition board / Purchased 2000. The Queensland Government’s special Centenary Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © Charles Raymond Blackman 1956-57. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2016

In 1956, Barbara Blackman brought home a talking book machine and one of the first books the Blackmans ‘read’ was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This was Blackman’s first encounter with the story and, importantly, it lacked any illustrations to impose on his imagination.

Barbara came to stand for Alice herself. Her struggle with her progressive blindness parallels Alice’s efforts to conquer the mysterious circumstances in which she found herself. Queensland poet and friend, Judith Wright later articulated how central Barbara – and Alice – was to Blackman’s success:

. . . she is Alice; he painted her in this role ten years ago. She is lucky to be known so well by a great painter; but he is lucky, too, to have found her waiting for him at all the important crossroads in his own world, and to have recognised her for the touchstone that she is.

Through his second wife Genevieve de Couvreur’s love of contemporary dance, Alice provided new inspiration for Blackman in Buderim in 1984, with set designs created for the Alice in Wonderland ballet, performed later that year in Perth.


Poem written and read by Auguste Blackman (the eldest son of Charles Blackman) on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition, ‘Lure of the sun: Charles Blackman in Queensland’ on 7 November 2015


Lure of the Sun

Whispering shadowed dawn arise
See the world through Alice eyes
Kettle sings to brush in hand
Descending dappled Wonderland
Beneath the faithful Queensland house
Blue Alice, rabbit and dormouse
Gilded by a Gertrude flower
Amidst the splendid perfumed hour
Gerbera Roses Daisy Lily
Earthen breezeway Indooroopilly
Expounding wild magenta dream
Away to Barjai Tamborine
Pandanus palms Maroochydore
Blackman paints our fatal shore
A tea pot tips inspiring brew
Alice grows a foot or two
‘Drink Me’ now and you can be
A golden girl kissed by the sea
Through The Looking Glass we leap
Falling down in jumbled heap
And here at last we’re joined as one
Spellbound by a Lure of Sun

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Post inspired by a blog comment from Mary Long who requested a copy of the poem.