Lot 259

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Wilde Oscar

Oscar Wilde Rare Signed Photo


A cabinet sized bust portrait photograph of Irish author Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) signed as "Oscar Wilde" and dated "Jany. 23 '82" along the top portion above the sitter's head. The sepia tone photograph is printed "OSCAR WILDE. / Sarony / Copyright 1882, by N. Sarony. / 37 UNION SQR. / N.Y." in the lower mount and depicts the long-locked dramatist wearing an overcoat with a wide fur collar. The card measures 4.25" x 6.25". The upper corners of the card are faded and have been retouched to match the sepia tone, and there are two surface abrasions including one running vertically down Wilde's forehead, else near fine. In a floating mount and matted in tan and cocoa within a copper gilt finished frame. Not examined out of frame. Overall frame measures 10.75" x 13".


Wilde, who was still an aspiring poet eager to establish an international reputation, accepted an invitation to give a series of lectures on aestheticism in the United States. In preparation, Wilde bought himself some suitably aesthetic outfits, including a long, fur-lined green overcoat--the very one seen in this photograph. He became very attached to this coat, writing later that "it was all over America with me…it knows me perfectly." It enfolded him when he set sail on Christmas Eve 1881 for New York. Arriving at port, Wilde was an immediate sensation. To a customs official he said, "I have nothing to declare but my genius."


One of the first things that Wilde did in America was to report to Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896), an exclusive New York City photographer. The Canadian-born illustrator and lithographer had opened a photography studio in 1867. Sarony's other subjects included such turn-of-the-century notables Sarah Bernhardt, Samuel Clemens, Lew Wallace, and retired Union General W.T. Sherman.


Another image of Wilde--arguably the most instantly recognizable of the author to this day--was also taken by Sarony. Entitled "No. 18," it showed Wilde in a pensive pose, and it was probably taken during the same session as this cabinet card bust portrait. "No. 18" depicted Wilde in a velvet smoking jacket, knee breeches, black stockings, and slippers, holding a book of his Poems. The photograph was later the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court case Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. vs. Sarony, in which Sarony successfully argued that his copyrights had been infringed when his image of Wilde had been used without his permission.



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