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

Number of Photographs

The total number of known Sarony images of Oscar Wilde is 32. But getting to this number has been a growth industry.

It was historically cited that were 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

That brings the total taken in 1882 to 29 photographs of Wilde. To these we can add three known photographs taken by Sarony in 1883 of Wilde with shorter hair, for a total of 32 .

Napoleon Sarony in dress uniform wearing a fez

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Oscar Wilde In America | © John Cooper, 2020