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Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wilde, 1854-1900

Nationality: Irish
Date of Birth: 1854
Place of Birth: Westland Row, Dublin
Date of Death: 1900.11.30
Place of Death: Hotel d'Alsace, Paris


Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wilde, author, poet and dramatist. Wilde's father was the leading oculist and ear surgeon Sir William Robert Wills Wilde (1815-1876), who had founded his own hospital in Dublin, published books on aural surgery, topography, Dean Swift, and an immense medical report on the 1851 census; he was knighted in 1864. In 1851 he married Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (?1821-1896), who played a leading part in the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing books in prose and verse and writing Irish revolutionary poems for The Nation under the pseudonym 'Speranza'. Wilde's elder brother William (1852-1899) was a journalist and poet, and a younger sister, Isola (1857-1867) did not survive childhood. Wilde married Constance Mary Lloyd on 29 May 1884. They had two children, Cyril, born 5 June 1885 who died at Neuve Chapelle on 9 May 1915, and Vyvyan (3 November 1886-1967). His relationship with Lord Alfred Bruce 'Bosie' Douglas (1870-1945), the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry, who he met in 1891, led to his trial and conviction for obscenity in 1895. After the trial, Constance took the children to Switzerland and changed the family name to Holland. After years of ill health, Constance died in Genoa after a spinal operation on 7 April 1898.


Poet, playwright, author and Aesthete, Wilde became a disciple of JW for a time during the early 1880s but the two men quickly grew apart. They became rivals and sparring partners in the press, each trying to outdo the other's witty remarks. From 1874, George du Maurier's Punch cartoons which satirised the Aesthetes depicted a recognisable Wilde in the character of Jellaby Postlethwaite (for example, 'The Six Mark Teapot', Punch, 30 October 1880), whose desire to live up to his china echoed a notorious remark of Wilde's. He cultivated his aesthetic personality while still a student at Oxford, and was inspired by JW and the other Aesthetes to collect 'blue and white' porcelain. Wilde initially found JW's Nocturnes baffling, but he quickly came to appreciate them. However, their friendship was put under the stress of their personalities: JW could not accept that Wilde knew anything about art, and although Wilde thoroughly absorbed JW's aesthetic principles, he never saw himself as a disciple.

In 1877, Wilde, then still a student at Oxford, wrote a review of the first Grosvenor Gallery exhibition, where he commented for the first time on JW's work. He stated that Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge (YMSM 140), was 'rather prettier' than Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (YMSM 170), but both were 'worth looking at for about as long as one looks at a real rocket, that is, for somewhat less than a quarter of a minute'. While at Oxford, Wilde was greatly influenced by the views of Ruskin and Walter Pater and famously developed his own dandyish position of 'art for art's sake'. In early 1879 Wilde moved to London to live in rooms in Salisbury Street with the painter Frank Miles and probably met JW about this time. In August 1880 they moved to Keats House, 1 (now 44) Tite Street, which Miles had commissioned E. W. Godwin to design.

Wilde's first book of poems was published in 1880. JW disapproved of all art critics, including Wilde, but Wilde rivalled him in influence. Both were admired for their wit as well as their work. Once JW made some witty remark and Wilde commented 'I wish I had said that!' to which JW replied, 'You will, Oscar, you will!' During this period, JW, Wilde and Miles apparently had a song and dance act in Hollingshead's farce The Grasshoppper at the Gaiety Theatre in London (see Souvenir of the Gaiety (M.664)). However, it was Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience in 1881 which brought Aestheticism into the limelight, and the characters borrowed their manners, characteristics and appearance from both JW and Wilde.

On the back of this fame, Wilde toured the United States giving lectures in 1882. JW accused Wilde of stealing his ideas, although both had derived their aesthetic theories from similar sources, and Wilde's borrowings from the writings of William Morris were far more in evidence in lectures such as 'The Renaissance in English Art' and 'The House Beautiful'. During one of his lectures he stated that JW was perhaps the first artist not only in England but in all of Europe.

On his return to Britain, Wilde lectured around the country and married Constance Lloyd. After marriage, the Wildes lived at 16 (now 33) Tite Street, a red brick Queen Anne terraced house which they leased after April 1884. This was decorated by Godwin, apparently after JW refused the commission, but JW possibly did a ceiling decoration for the drawing room in gold, with two dragons in opposite corners. However, Wilde's 'House Beautiful' only lasted for ten years, the contents being completely dispersed in the bankruptcy sale of 24 April 1895.

For a while (1887-1889), Wilde was editor of The Woman's World, revitalizing the struggling magazine. He also wrote collections of short and children's stories, like The Happy Prince And Other Tales (1888). His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1890, and the next summer, Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, and began the affair which was to have such an impact on his private and public life. Meanwhile, Oscar's first play, Lady Windermere's Fan, opened in February 1892. Its financial and critical success prompted him to continue to write for the theatre. His subsequent plays included A Woman Of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance Of Being Earnest (1895). They were all highly acclaimed and firmly established Oscar a playwright.

However, in April 1895, Wilde sued Bosie's father for libel on the charge of homosexuality. Wilde withdrew the case but was himself arrested and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years of hard labour on 25 May 1895. After his release from prison on 19 May 1897, Wilde published The Ballad of Reading Gaol and after a brief return to Bosie, spent the rest of his life wandering Europe. During this time many of his old friends refused to acknowledge him, including JW on their one, wordless, encounter in Paris. In 1900, a recurrent ear infection became serious, meningitis set in and Wilde died in a hotel room in Paris.

Wilde bought r.: Maud Franklin; v.: Study of Maud Franklin (M.693) at JW's bankruptcy sale in 1880, which was described erroneously as a portrait of Sarah Bernhardt. Wilde wrote to Bosie from jail in 1897 how he regretted having to sell the drawing at his own bankruptcy sale in 1895. Also sold at this sale were Nude Female at a Fountain (M.1429) and Sketch of a Lady (M.1430), and later Portrait of Pablo de Sarasate (M.1000). Wilde possibly owned Two figures seated and one standing (M.331) and Three seated women, one with a parasol (M.334).


Ellmann, Richard, Oscar Wilde, London, 1987; Wilde, Oscar, The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, New York, 1968; Wilde, Oscar Fingall O'Flaherty Wills, 'The Grosvenor Gallery,' The Dublin University Magazine, vol. 90; Holland, Merlin and Rupert Hart-Davis, eds, The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, London, 2000; Gere, Charlotte and Lesley Hoskins, The House Beautiful: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Interior, London: Lund Humphries in association with the Geffrye Museum, 2000.