Iconography of Oscar Wilde

On leaving the University of Oxford with a Double First in literæ humaniores, Oscar Wilde established himself as a brilliant wit and dashing man-about-town in London’s fashionable circles. Known more for his striking manner of dress than his somewhat affected poems, Wilde and his personal mannerisms became the object of gentle satire on stage and in print. Wilde’s eccentric style was quickly associated with the emergent Aesthetic Movement, which appeared to promote rather high-minded ideas about refined taste in the arts and home decoration. In late 1881 the theater entrepreneur Richard D’Oyly Carte hired Wilde to deliver lectures in many parts of the United States and Canada. For most of the following year, Wilde traveled throughout North America, delivering talks from New York to San Francisco. Everywhere he spoke, he donned a special “aesthetic” costume that Carte had contracted him to wear. His garb, which he modeled in a series of languid poses, included such items as patent-leather opera pumps, a velvet smoking jacket, and silken hose underneath close-fitting knickerbockers. The famous photographs that Napoleon Sarony’s New York studio took of Wilde in this attire were sold in three different sizes at the venues where he spoke.

Selected Images

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Call number: Wildeiana: [from top to bottom] Box 7a, items 28 & 51; Box 12, items 3 & 5; Box 22, folder 13