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.