In 1880 Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) was an emerging poet and lyricist. His playwriting fame and legal notoriety was over a decade away, but his dedication to decadence and to ‘art for art’s sake’ was already attracting the attention of the satirical press.
This cartoon comes from Time magazine in April 1880, and was drawn by librettist and artist Alfred Thompson (1831–1895). The drawing appeared next to six stanzas – ‘The New Helen’ by ‘Oscuro Mild’ – that parodied Wilde’s style.
It shows Wilde as a slender, effete dreamer infatuated with actresses. On the right he is offering a triolet (an eight-line poem) to the French dramatic Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923); on the left, he gives a sonnet to the great Shakespearian Ellen Terry (1847–1928). Terry’s recent performance in The Merchant of Venice had inspired Wilde to write a gushing lyric tribute, 'Portia', which had been published in World magazine earlier that year.
- Article by:
- Carolyn Burdett
- Fin de siècle
‘Art for art’s sake’? Aestheticism and decadence shocked the Victorian establishment by challenging traditional values, foregrounding sensuality and promoting artistic, sexual and political experimentation. Dr Carolyn Burdett explores the key features of this unconventional artistic period.
- Article by:
- Greg Buzwell
- Fin de siècle, The Gothic, London
Dark desires and forbidden pleasure are at the centre of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Greg Buzwell examines the interplay between art and morality in Oscar Wilde’s novel, and considers its use of traditional Gothic motifs as well as the theories of the new aesthetic movement.