Oscar Wilde In America


A Selected Resource Of Oscar Wilde's Visits To America

‍INTRODUCING THE Sarony Photographs


‍Shortly after his arrival in New York for his 1882 Lecture Tour, Oscar Wilde posed for a series of photographs taken by Napoleon Sarony, then the most famous portrait photographer in America.


‍The photographs were taken at Sarony's studio at 37 Union Square, New York City on January 5th, 1882, and have become the most recognizable images of Oscar Wilde, and the ones with which we most readily associate him with today. Wilde revisited New York in the late Summer of 1883 when Sarony took several more photographs, this time with Wilde's hair cut much shorter. This archive is the only place in mass publication where all known Sarony images of Oscar Wilde appear together.


‍Number of Photographs


‍It is often cited that there 27 Sarony photographs of Oscar Wilde from 1882. Indeed, this is the number illustrated in Merlin Holland’s excellent little book The Wilde Album. [Henry Holt, 1998]. However, the author was wise to note there were “at least” 27 because the book ignores one of TWO photographs designated as number 9. The two number 9s are extremely similar and could easily be mistaken for each other if not viewed together. In one Wilde is holding a book and in the other he is not. They are included in this archive as photographs 9A and 9B. 


‍That would have made 28 but recently a rarely seen photograph in the extensive Wilde holdings at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, was identified as a Sarony variant by Oscar’s grandson Merlin Holland. The reason for its rarity is that this unnumbered image might not have been one of the commercial Sarony series, moreover, the copy in the Ransom collection might be the only extant proof print. It is included in this archive as photograph 3A. 


‍Therefore, with the additional number 9 and the newly identified 3A there are 29 photographs of Wilde in 1882. To these we can add three known photographs taken by Sarony in 1883 of Wilde with shorter hair, bringing the total number of known Sarony images of Oscar Wilde to 32.



Napoleon Sarony in dress uniform wearing a fez
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Oscar Wilde In America | © John Cooper, 2020