In 1895, the playwright and wit Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) had enjoyed great success, with works such as The Importance of Being Earnest. But after a failed libel action against the Marquis of Queensberry (1844–1900), it emerged that Wilde had been the lover of the Marquis’s son Lord Alfred Douglas (1870 – 1945). Homosexuality was a criminal act at the time, and Wilde was prosecuted for gross indecency.
The trial featured heavily in the Illustrated Police News, a weekly tabloid newspaper published between 1864 and 1938 that specialised in melodramatic and sensational depictions of real-life crime stories. This issue contains a famous drawing of the closing moments of the 1895 trial. Also shown are Wilde’s art collection; books being seized and sold off to pay legal bills; and two vignettes contrasting his former fame with his new convict status.
Wilde was found guilty and died destitute in Paris in 1900, a broken man.