This essay first explores the history of how Epstein’s monument to Wilde came to be regarded as an embodiment of modernity—both in terms of sculptural aesthetics and queer politics—and how this collective sense of the monument’s modernity has scripted the structures of mourning and ritual surrounding it for over a century. Oscar Wilde served out his term without remittance. On the Trials of Oscar Wilde: Myths oscar Wilde PDF Realities. In its suggestion to would-be mourners visiting the grave that Wilde’s writing, perfect in itself, serves as its own best monument, this choice from the King James Bible marks Wilde’s life and life work as finished, complete, in no need of intervention or resurrection.
Wildean pilgrimage—immortalized most recently in the 2006 ensemble cast film Paris je t’aime—started well before admirers began to adorn the monument at Père-Lachaise with flowers, graffiti, and lipstick kisses. Wilde’s book last Wednesday, and I thank you very much for sending me the copy. It is a wonderful book—the best poor Oscar ever wrote. The morning after the book came, I made a pilgrimage in his memory—going first to St. Wilde’s long letter to Lord Alfred Douglas was that year published posthumously in a highly expurgated edition with an introduction by Robert Ross and a cover design by Wilde’s friend and artistic collaborator Charles Ricketts. Robert Ross’s labor of love, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, was published in London by Methuen in 1908.
The condition of this gift is not one to which I certainly have any objection—the condition is—that, the work should be carried out by the brilliant young sculptor, Mr. Jacob Epstein from whom Sir Charles Holyrod has already prophesied great things. The choice of Epstein—a provocative, cutting-edge sculptor who had never known Wilde—was a bold, if impersonal one, and there was another artist in attendance on this occasion who likely took the impersonality of Ross’s choice rather hard. Charles Ricketts, who seating charts indicate was prominently seated across from Wilde’s eldest son Cyril, had likely known for quite some time that a monument had been planned for Wilde’s tomb. Ricketts played a key role in bringing him to the attention of Wilde’s circle.
Earlier in 1908, Ricketts had been one of the many prominent London artists to defend Epstein’s first major commission: a group of eighteen eight-foot stone nudes designed to grace the façade of central London’s new British Medical Association Building. Jacob Epstein was as surprised as anyone to learn that he would be responsible for a permanent monument to Wilde’s memory. I heard of the commission to do the tomb of Oscar Wilde the day after it had been announced at a dinner given to Robert Ross by his friends at the Ritz. I neither knew of this dinner nor of its being made the occasion for an announcement that I was to receive the commission . Unlike Silence, Ricketts’s comparatively quieter memorial to Wilde, Jacob Epstein’s striking bas-relief tomb was executed through the direct carving techniques that would be so closely associated with twentieth-century avant-garde sculpture, and thus sutures Wilde’s memory to the future. A demon-angel, nine feet in lengt.
A go-between of earth and heaven, but with wings for flight stronger than the lithe earth limbs, the face wide, oval and full, with more of the earth than heaven in it, part-Isis, part-Celt, inexplicable, sensuous without being sensual, and as wholly secretive of its own thoughts as the ternal Sphinx—this is the spirit chosen to keep Wilde’s memory green. Some of Wilde’s friends declare that the face is reminiscent of him. Epstein did not propose to be either a literary or moral critic of Oscar Wilde. This brooding, winged figure, born long ago in primitive passions, is a child of marble, and . The hand of the sculptor has groped in the block of marble impelled to the expression, without words or definition, of the haunting tragedy of a great career.
Yet from the moment it was transported to Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery, where Wilde’s body waited after being exhumed, moved, and reinterred in 1909, Epstein’s sexed sphinx was read by both admirers and detractors alike as a limestone embodiment of the embattled Celt, and this conflation of the monumental and the corporeal fueled the international scandal that marked the Tomb’s installation. Ross, under whose direction the tomb had been commissioned and who would be interred there in 1950 along with his former lover and friend. To Epstein, this all felt like a repeat of the 1908 Strand Statues scandal. You cannot imagine how terrible the monument looks now.
I feel quite sick over it but ridicule will do the work I think. The tomb remained unadorned by any fig leaf or cod piece until 1961, when vandals chiseled off the genitals altogether. Giles Robertson, then joint executor of the estate of Robert Ross, offered historian Michael Pennington one rationale for this late act of censorship. Epstein’s winged demon-angel has always, for better or worse, stood in as proxy for Wilde’s physical body. Inspired by the sensuality of Wilde’s writing and life, Epstein crafted a figure of erotic dignity that has inspired admirers to physical response. And such open, public affection for one imagined as a queer martyr—whose bruised, swollen, yet forward-looking stone countenance looks defiantly towards the future—has served as public protest against rigid sexual morality for over a century.
In November 2011, one hundred years after the monument’s installation, the Irish government partnered with Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, to have the monument carefully cleaned and sealed from future displays of adoration. A lingering memory of the suppression of Epstein’s monument—and the way that suppression recreated the public shaming and silencing of Wilde through his trial and early death—influenced the particular rituals of mourning and admiration that grew up around the tomb at Père-Lachaise. Charles Ricketts, who had collaborated with Wilde on the designs for all but one of his books published before his imprisonment, took the news of his friend’s death very hard. Moore brought to-day the news, some days old, of Oscar’s death. I feel too upset to write about it, and the end of that Comedy that was really Tragedy. There are days when one vomits one’s nationality, when one regrets that one is an Englishman. I know I have not really felt the fact of his death, I am merely wretched, tearful, stupid, vaguely conscious that something has happened that stirs up old resentment and that one is not sufficiently reconciled to life and death.
Dreamt all last night about Oscar Wilde, or what seems so to me, for I woke up and fell asleep again more than once. In the evening to see Ross, who is ill. He told me a charming story about Oscar. Wilde in his tomb with a working artist’s ear.