Exhibition – Oscar Wilde – Le Petit Palais

until 15 January 2017 – Le Petit Palais 

Napoleon Sarony, Portrait d’Oscar Wilde, 1882. Crédit : Bibliothèque du Congrès, Washington.

The Petit Palais is presenting the first major exhibition in France devoted to the famous writer Oscar Wilde (Dublin 1854 – Paris 1900). Although Wilde died in the French capital, the centenary of his death was not celebrated here; London, on the contrary, honoured him with two large-scale exhibitions in 2000, one – mainly literary and biographical – at the British Library, and the other at the Barbican Centre, focusing on his connections with the artists of his time.
For this landmark event the Petit Palais retraces the life and work of this ardent francophile and speaker of perfect French through more than 200 remarkable exhibits, some never shown before: manuscripts, photographs, drawings, caricatures and personal effects; as well as paintings borrowed not only from Ireland and England, but also from the United States, Canada and Italy, from French institutions including the Musée d’Orsay and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and from various private collections.

It was only natural that Paris should ultimately host an exhibition like this one, given Wilde’s creative links with a host of leading figures on the artistic and intellectual scenes in late 19th-century Paris. He made frequent stays in the city between 1883 and 1894 and counted among his writer friends André Gide, Pierre Louÿs, Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine and even met Victor Hugo. He wrote his play Salomé originally in French, with Sarah Bernhardt in mind for the title role. Wilde would die, wretchedly poor, in Paris in 1900, after his conviction for homosexuality in London five years before; his tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery is topped with a sculpture by Jacob Epstein. The biographical element of the exhibition is uniquely innovative in bringing together a number of painted portraits for the first time, in particular the one by Harper Pennington (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA, Los Angeles). A further world premiere is the first-ever group showing of 13 of the original oversize photo-portraits taken by Napoleon Sarony during Wilde’s tour of America in 1882. These portraits are complemented by others, both famous and unexpected: Wilde in back view, for example, in the left foreground of Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Danse mauresque (Musée d’Orsay), painted as part of the set at the Baraque de la Goulue cabaret.

Tombeau d’Oscar Wilde au cimetière du père Lachaise par Jacob Epstein. Collection Merlin Holland. © The Estate of Sir Jacob Epstein

Portraits of Wilde’s family and friends, among them his wife Constance and Lord Alfred Douglas, offer an insight into his personal life, together with various memorabilia and drawings, watercolours, landscapes and portraits by Wilde himself.
Needless to say the exhibition also includes his most significant manuscripts, copies of books inscribed to French writers and samples of his correspondence. Special attention is given to Salomé, published in French in 1893, with its celebrated illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley and that they are privileged to be showing two of the original artworks.
In addition to showcases displaying the books and manuscripts, the exhibition is visually enhanced by a selection of Pre-Raphaelite pictures – by Watts, Millais, Hunt, Crane, Tissot, Stanhope and others – shown at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in 1877 and 1879 and extensively written about by Wilde in his role as art critic. At different points visitors are also offered excerpts from historic films, from interviews with Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland and Robert Badinter, author of the play C. 3. 3. – an account of Wilde’s trial and imprisonment – and from recordings of Wilde’s works read by English actor Rupert Everett.
A further feature is a mobile phone application serving as a guide and digital catalogue. The application divides the exhibition itinerary into 25 segments, with audio commentary by the two curators and high-definition images. The digital catalogue helps the visitor to discover the writer and his influence from different angles: via a timeline, a map of the world and an Oscar Wilde primer. It also includes the filmed interviews.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see a beautiful exhibition at an exceptional place such as Le Petit Palais which was built for the Exposition universelle in 1900 by the architect Charles Girault and then became the Musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris in 1902.

Practical Information :

© L’Affiche-Dominique Milherou

Avenue Winston Churchill – 75008 Paris
Tel: 00 33 1 53 43 40 00
Metro : Champs-Élysées Clemenceau

Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Late opening Friday until 9:00 pm.