In 1881, the comic-operetta duo – librettist WS Gilbert (William Schwenk Gilbert, 1836-1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) – were enjoying great success with Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore.
Their follow-up that year, Patience, lampooned the contemporary vogue for aestheticism, which advocated decadence, sensuality and ‘art for art’s sake’. It tells the story of two rival poets, Bunthorne and Grosvenor, whose characters parody several well-known artists of the time including Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882).
This is the cover of the sheet music from the operetta, arranged for piano. The full-colour lithographic illustration depicts three military men from the operetta (Richard Temple as Colonel Calverly, Durward Lely as the Duke of Dunstable, and Frank Thornton as Major Murgatroyd) posing as aesthetes, complete with Wilde-style velvet suits, flowers, dreamy expressions – and limp wrists.