The Kelly Sketch

New York, January 1882

At the start of Wilde's lecture tour of North America in 1882, Wilde's touring manager, Colonel W. F. Morse, required a sketch image of Wilde, in addition to the Sarony photographs, for publicity purposes. He therefore commissioned a sketch of him to be made along with a bas-relief in bronze from it for further prints. The resulting work is shown above.

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The artist chosen was James Edward Kelly (1855—1933), a New Yorker of Irish descent, who grew up during the Civil War. It was this upbringing, perhaps, that caused Kelly to develop a lifelong interest in American history—indeed the subjects of his sculpture and illustrations are often people and events of American wars. Later, as the Complete Works [1] reminds us, "Kelly was commissioned to provide five full-page designs and nine tailpieces for Rennel Rodd's Rose Leaf and Apple Leaf (1882), to which Wilde contributed an introduction". 

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The etching depicts Wilde, later famous for his children's stories, seated in profile perhaps as storyteller, alongside a child who is generally believed to be Kelly's son. In 1882 the image was featured in newspapers and was used for advertising media, and has since appeared in various guises including in Wilde biographies.

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[1]  The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Volume 1: Poems and poems in prose, Oxford University Press, 2000.

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Oscar Wilde In America |  © John Cooper, 2018