Dublin’s Oscar Wilde Monument at 25 Years

The Oscar Wilde Monument in Merrion Square, Dublin Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

On 28 October 1997 a new memorial to Oscar Wilde was unveiled in the north-west corner of Merrion Square in Dublin. Over the past quarter century Danny Osborne’s monument has proved immensely popular, and earlier this year his figure of Wilde was voted Dublin’s favourite sculpture.1 Today, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the unveiling, let’s take a closer look at the Oscar Wilde Memorial: what it is, how it’s changed, what it meant in 1997, and what it might mean now.

The Monument

The monument is in three parts. The main part is a realist sculpture of Wilde reclining on a 35-tonne quartz boulder. His right leg is straight and his left leg is crooked. He holds a bronze flower in one hand. His facial expression is split: he smiles on one side of his face and frowns on the other.

The Wilde figure. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

Osborne carved the life-sized figure from various coloured stones: green nephrite jade for the smoking jacket, pink thulite for the lapels and cuffs, blue pearl granite for the trousers, and black granite for the shoes and socks. Wilde’s head and hands were originally made of a thick, tough, white porcelain. Twelve years ago, after noticing that a hairline fracture was forming in the head, Osborne replaced the porcelain elements with pale, nearly white jade replicas.2 The stones used in the figure of Wilde were sourced from as far afield as the Yukon, Norway, India, and Guatemala.

The Constance bronze. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

The Dionysus bronze. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

A visitor reads the Wilde quotations in March 2016, when the bronzes were temporarily absent to allow for repairs. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

Several metres from the figure of Wilde are two cuboid black granite pillars, arranged so that the whole composition forms a triangle. On the pillar to the left of Wilde as we look at him, titled “Life”, is a sculpture in bronze of a kneeling woman, Wilde’s wife Constance, shown naked and six months pregnant. Her back is turned to Wilde and she looks at him over her right shoulder. A bronze male torso of the Greek god Dionysus is on the pillar to the right of Wilde, the pillar of “Art”.

Osborne asked various artists, scientists, politicians, and others with an interest in Wilde to provide quotes from Wilde’s work that had meaning for them, and these are inscribed on the pillars in the contributors’ handwriting. Unfortunately, a couple are apocryphal: John Cooper has shown that there is no evidence that Wilde ever said “I have nothing to declare except my genius”, and “I drink to keep body and soul apart”, provided by Seamus Heaney, seems, bizarrely, to have been coined by Heaney himself.3

In late 2007 or early 2008 there was an unsuccessful attempt by thieves to steal the Constance sculpture. They succeeded in pulling the bronze along with its base of nine plates of glass from the pillar; as the whole was evidently too heavy to carry away, they left it where it had fallen. Dublin City Council reinstated the bronze and damaged base on the pillar, but facing in the opposite direction. Constance’s body was now towards Wilde, with her head turning to look away from him.

The monument in June 2015. Space has been cleared between the bronzes and the fence. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

The monument in June 2015. Constance is incorrectly facing away from Wilde and both bronzes are on their original glass bases. Note the damage to Constance’s base, caused by the attempted theft in 2007/2008. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

The monument in December 2016. Constance is now facing towards Wilde as Osborne originally intended, and both bronzes are on their new blue granite bases. Note that the Dionysus bronze appears to have been rotated slightly clockwise. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

Benches had been added by December 2016. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

The monument during improvement works in February 2019. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

A visitor to the monument in October 2019 enjoys a photo opportunity provided by the improvements. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

In the spring of 2015 work was undertaken to open up the space around the monument and better accommodate visitors. The shrubs between the pillars and the fence were removed, as were the paving stones that had surrounded the pillars. Most of this area was covered with compacted gravel. This was not the first time that the monument had been visible from the street: photographs show that the shrubs were cut low in 2004 but by 2008 had grown up again. Since 2015 it seems that the monument has been permanently visible from outside the park.

A multilingual guide, accessed by scanning a code displayed near the artwork using a smartphone, was launched by the City Council in 2015. The guide provided a description of the monument and a video of Osborne discussing the making of the sculptures. It was conceived as a pilot for a project that would be expanded to other artworks in the park.4 The website hosting the guide was functional until September 2020, but by November had been deleted.5 The audio elements of the guide can still be accessed on Soundcloud, and the video can be viewed on Osborne’s website.6

When, in 2016, Osborne noticed the incorrect positioning of the Constance figure and the damage to its glass base, he replaced both bases with azul bahia, a blue granite from Brazil, and rotated Constance so that she was once more looking at Wilde. Comparison with pre-2016 photographs also suggests that the Dionysus torso was rotated slightly at this time: previously orientated so that its back was to Wilde, it was now rotated a few degrees clockwise.

Benches were added to the cleared area behind the pillars. As well as providing a place for visitors to rest, these may also serve to guide the eye between the monument and the Wilde home.

In 2017 the Talking Statues initiative arrived in Dublin. The idea, which originated in Copenhagen and has spread to many cities around the world, is that visitors to a sculpture can scan a QR code displayed nearby and then receive a call from the statue itself. The script for Wilde was written by John Banville and read by Andrew Scott.

By the beginning of 2019 work had begun to clear the space around the granite boulder of ivy and other greenery. The rather rickety fence behind the boulder was replaced with a hedge and the area immediately around the boulder spread with gravel, allowing visitors to walk about the boulder for the first time. The compacted gravel around the pillars and benches was replaced with paving stones.

A small stone marker directing visitors to the Wilde home that had stood to the left of the boulder was removed. It had been in place since 2001 at the latest (I have seen no earlier photographs that are framed such that they could have shown if it were there).

The monument is also now lit up so that even after nightfall it can be easily observed from the street. And, in 2020, the boulder was washed and now looks as white as when the artist found it, over twenty-five years ago, up in the Wicklow hills. As Osborne has said, “[i]t looks like a big giant iceberg he’s sitting on.”

Memorialising Wilde in the Late Nineties

The overriding sentiment expressed at the time of the unveiling was that it was about time.7 Finally, a hundred years after Wilde’s conviction on a charge of “gross indecency”, it was possible to erect a monument to a revered author who also happened to be the most famous gay man of the Victorian era (though the label “gay” is anachronistic, it is a convenient shorthand and accords with how the general public perceives Wilde today – Wilde identified as “Uranian”).8

Sarah Smith, in her 2012 article about the monument, notes that

attitudes to homosexuality within Ireland have changed dramatically in the last two decades, and it is no coincidence that the first statue of Wilde was erected in Ireland just four years after homosexuality was finally decriminalized in 1993.9

Maggie Hambling’s 1998 sculpture, A Conversation with Oscar Wilde. Image: Zoer/Flickr.

Attitudes were also changing on the other side of the Irish Sea, and just two years before the unveiling of Osborne’s monument a window memorialising Wilde had been installed at Westminster Abbey. In 1998 Maggie Hambling’s sculpture, A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, would take its place on London’s Adelaide St, near The Strand.

For anyone who came of age in the mid to late twentieth century, the idea that Wilde could be commemorated in this way had seemed unthinkable. Neil McKenna, the author of The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, and Stephen Fry, who played Wilde in Brian Gilbert’s 1997 biopic, are just two of the gay men who have described how their childhood discovery of Wilde brought a moment of self-recognition,10 a feeling complicated by Wilde’s still shaky reputation and the enduring prejudice against homosexuality. Ever since Wilde’s conviction, even his apologists had ignored or pathologised his sexual orientation. Raising monuments to Wilde sent a message that the taboo was finally being lifted.

In fact, this was seen by some as the monuments’ primary raison d’être. The television producer Jeremy Isaacs has written that the idea of a sculpture of Wilde in London had been suggested to him by the late filmmaker Derek Jarman, whom he suspected had been motivated by a desire to seek public acceptance of Wilde’s homosexuality rather than to mark his literary talent.11

Also worth remembering is that the revival of interest in Wilde and the growing acceptance of his sexuality was met with a backlash. In the late nineties right-wing commentators argued that Wilde was “more sinner than saint”, and that he had “got off lightly” with a sentence of two years’ hard labour.12 Fry was driven to pen a lengthy diatribe against homophobia in his first volume of memoirs, Moab is my Washpot, after reading Peregrine Worsthorne’s argument against a statue on the grounds that Wilde was “a paedophile”.13

This means that the various memorials to Wilde, rather than marking a moment when his reputation was vindicated, likely acted as catalysts for his continuing rehabilitation. That is to say, they had a purpose and a utility beyond simply paying tribute to Wilde. “All art is quite useless”, Wilde once wrote. But, in the case of his own memorials, he may well have been wrong.

Let’s now examine the monument more closely, thinking about Osborne’s aims and whether he was successful in achieving them.

Stained Glass Attitude

The most conspicuous feature of Osborne’s monument is the brightly coloured stones used to make the figure of Wilde. Explaining his decision to use coloured stones Osborne has said: “Oscar was a very flamboyant and colourful character, and he also loved beautiful things and beautiful objects, and things made out of lovely stones”. Another reason, says Osborne, is that “Oscar was very interested in Greek art”, and so the colours reference the brightly painted marble statuary of Ancient Greece.14

Also notable is the relaxed posture of the figure. “I didn’t want to put Oscar in a formal pose,” says Osborne, “like a sort of classical statue of somebody standing there on a pedestal, so I gave him a devil-may-care [pose,] lounging back on this rock in the corner of the park, in a slightly provocative way, [...] and projecting his dandyism.”

The posture also recalls Wilde’s use – some might say overuse – of the verb “to fling”: his characters are endlessly flinging themselves on sofas.15 Simply sitting is too prosaic for Wilde.

Monument to the Maratha Maharajah of Kohlapur, Rajaram Chhatrapati, which Wilde saw in Florence. The once bright colours have vanished over time. Image: Wikimedia.

Wilde (1882), in a favourite pose. Image: oscarwildeinamerica.org.

The cover of Oscar Wilde: The Complete Interviews, showing Wilde in his smoking jacket, with the lapels colourised to match first-hand descriptions. Image: Rob Marland.

The waxwork of Wilde at Madame Tussauds, in smoking jacket with (incorrect) green lapels. Image: Hillarie/Flickr.

Wilde on the cover of Davis Coakley’s book, Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Irish, with added green tie and handkerchief.

The stones and posture are features that one can imagine Wilde himself valuing. He adored the “beautiful coloured bust of the Rajah of Koolapoor” that he had seen in Florence, and contrasted it with the “plain white marble” of the bas relief of John Keats in Rome that, in his opinion, inadequately conveyed the poet’s “rich colour”.16 His novel The Picture of Dorian Gray features a lengthy passage about the hero’s fascination with precious gems, and Wilde luxuriates in the names of the stones: chrysoberyl, cymophane, jacinth, selenite, and so on.17 He would have enjoyed not only the appearance of Osborne’s sculpture but learning of the names of the stones and their far flung origins.

Wilde also disliked the formality of modern statuary and maintained that sculptors should go to life for their inspiration.18 Osborne has certainly done that. One of the most famous images of Wilde shows him lying (or flung) on a settee spread with a fur rug, in the same smoking jacket that Osborne has depicted him wearing.

Although images of Wilde proliferate, all the photographs we have of him are in black and white. This means that any attempt to produce a coloured representation must be based either on paintings, research into contemporary descriptions of Wilde’s clothes, or guesswork. There are no paintings of Wilde in his smoking jacket, but Osborne appears to be aware that people who saw it described the lapels as scarlet or cardinal, which the pink thulite of the sculpture matches fairly well.

Descriptions of the colour of the jacket itself are conflicting, and range from black to brown and olive green: it was probably a dark drab brown that looked differently depending on the lighting conditions. Osborne has explained that he chose to replicate the jacket in jade because it is “a stone which is often associated with immortality”, and has been found buried with Chinese emperors and Mayan royalty. Wilde was fascinated with the idea of immortality. He repeatedly expressed the notion that immortality could be achieved through art,19 and The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a young man who is granted eternal youthfulness after seeing a portrait of himself. Wilde also referred to his love for Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas as immortal.20

Incidentally, the team at Madame Tussauds London, who were creating their waxwork of Wilde at about the same time that Osborne was working on his sculpture, opted for a green smoking jacket, in this case on the advice of Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson, who informed them, quite correctly, that Oscar favoured the colour green.21

Of course, green also symbolises Ireland and the colour is often used in representations of Wilde that seek to emphasise his nationality.22 That Wilde’s nationality was considered in the choice of materials for Osborne’s sculpture seems likely, not just because the monument is located in Dublin and was commissioned by Guinness Ireland Group, but because Osborne also took the decision to depict Wilde wearing a Trinity College tie, made from glazed porcelain.

The tie is, to my mind, an odd choice. There is no evidence that Wilde ever wore a college tie. Although he was no doubt proud of his achievements at Trinity, he was not a graduate of the college, leaving after his third year. When interviewed for the Biograph and Review in 1880 he fibbed that he only spent a year there,23 and, for the rest of his life, would more conspicuously pride himself on his other alma mater, Magdalen College, Oxford. More importantly, the wearing of a college tie is a rather stuffy affectation that is hardly in Wilde’s style (he preferred single colour ties of sage green, sky blue, or brick red). Then again, many of those who most regularly encounter the monument will be students of the nearby Trinity College, and it would be churlish to begrudge them the pleasure of a visual reminder that they are following in the footsteps of Wilde.

The posture and colourful stones are often seen as popular features of the sculpture, attracting visitors to the monument who might have ignored a more conventional depiction of Wilde. However, some critics have identified these features as detrimental or problematic.

Smith suggests that the reclining posture evokes classical Greek and Roman statuary that “sought to idealize the male body,” and that this representational type has been described as “feminised masculinity”.24 She notes that articles about the sculpture often refer to the coloured stones as a fitting representation of Wilde’s “colourful character” (as we have seen, Osborne has used these words himself), and suggests that “the use of the term ‘colourful’ to describe Wilde’s character may be seen in this context as a euphemism for his homosexuality.”

“The Master of the Paradox”

Wilde is famed for his witty epigrams. Many of these are paradoxes, ideas that seem to contain a logical inconsistency but, on closer inspection, reveal a deeper truth. Examples include Lord Henry Wotton’s pronouncement in The Picture of Dorian Gray that: “I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible.”25 Wilde summed up his philosophy of paradox when he wrote that: “A Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.”26

Rolf Breuer has pointed out that Wilde began using paradox in his writings relatively late in his career, when he was in his early thirties, noting that this coincided with his “sexual reorientation” – that is, the moment when it is generally agreed that Wilde had his first sexual experience with a man, his friend Robert Ross. Breuer suggests that Wilde’s interest in paradox may have been prompted by the double-life that he began leading at this time, which resulted in “a growing personal understanding of ambivalence, irony and paradox.”27

Wilde’s drawing room plays bombard audiences with paradox after paradox, and their plots are often driven by the idea of the double-life, most notably in The Importance of Being Earnest: Jack Worthing is Jack in the country and Ernest in London; Algernon Moncrieff is a confirmed “Bunburyist”, concocting stories of an imaginary friend, Bunbury, as a way to avoid family obligations; and Cecily Cardew imagines that she is not only in love with but betrothed to a man she has never met.

In his essay The Decay of Lying Wilde claimed that life imitated art far more than art imitated life,28 and critics and biographers have been quick to detect the ways in which his life seems to imitate or embody the paradoxes apparent in his art.

As Breuer has noticed, the most obvious of these paradoxes is Wilde’s sexuality. When Wilde’s letter to Lord Alfred Douglas referring to the younger man’s “red rose-leaf lips [...] made no less for music of song than for madness of kisses” was read out in court, the jurors saw it for the love letter that it clearly was (despite Wilde’s insistence that it was merely a prose sonnet).29 But earlier Wilde had written in similar terms to the women with whom he was romantically involved, including Constance. In the months after their marriage, while he was away from home on a lecture tour of the UK, he wrote to her:

I feel your fingers in my hair, and your cheek brushing mine. The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours. I feel incomplete without you.30

The precise nature of Wilde’s sexuality and whether it evolved over time is unknowable and has been subject to debate. However, his behaviour – or rather, the surviving record of his behaviour – seems to suggest a genuine interest in women during his twenties and, from his mid-thirties, an exclusive interest in men.

Osborne has referred to Wilde as “the master of the paradox” and his monument incorporates multiple references to the paradoxes in Wilde’s life and art. These include the two pillars, “Art” and “Life”, and their bronzes; the use of a subtractive method of sculpture for the Wilde figure and an additive method – modelling in clay – for the bronzes; Wilde’s contrasting facial expressions; and the jewellery he wears, two scarab rings and one wedding ring.

The two scarab rings, says Osborne, were worn by Wilde because one of them brought him good luck and the other, bad luck. This is a conflation of Gideon Spilett’s post-prison interview, which describes Wilde as wearing “a ring set with an emerald on the little finger of each hand”, one of which was the cause of his happiness and the other the cause of his unhappiness,31 with the multiple descriptions of Wilde’s solitary green scarab ring.32 The wedding ring may be intended to contrast Wilde’s love of superstition with a tangible symbol of his very real marriage. Incidentally, I am aware of no evidence that Wilde wore a wedding ring (Constance did wear a wedding ring, but Osborne’s sculpture shows her without it).

Paradoxes may proliferate in Osborne’s monument, but it is the apparent paradox of Wilde’s sexuality that appears to be the dominant theme. One of the ways in which this is evident is the time at which Osborne has chosen to depict Wilde and Constance.

“A Very Pivotal Time”

Osborne has said that, despite the fact that “most people are familiar with images of Oscar Wilde’s head when he was younger,” he chose to depict the playwright at “about the age of forty.” This was, says Osborne,

a very pivotal time for him. He’d just had a series of successful plays [...], he’d just published The Picture of Dorian Gray [....] It was also at the time of his first homosexual encounter, with Robbie Ross.

Osborne is compressing Wilde’s biography here. Wilde probably began his affair with Ross in 1886, when he (Wilde) was aged thirty-one, and this was certainly “a very pivotal time” for him. But The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1890 (revised in 1891), and the run of four successful plays spanned the period from 1892 to 1895, by which point Wilde was forty. The year between Wilde’s fortieth and forty-first birthdays was also a pivotal time: Wilde saw the premiere of his last and most enduring play, The Importance of Being Earnest, and was soon afterwards convicted and sentenced to two years’ hard labour.

A svelte Oscar Wilde in 1882. Image: oscarwildeinamerica.org.

A slightly heavier Wilde a decade later, pictured with Lord Alfred Douglas. Image: British Library.

That Osborne has incorporated elements of Wilde’s appearance from different times further complicates matters. The face does, indeed, suggest an age of about forty. However, by the time Wilde reached that age his build was somewhat bulkier than is shown in Osborne’s sculpture. As early as 1883 New York journalists were noting that Wilde was plumper than on his first visit to America the year before (a result of several months of Parisian dinners, paid for by the advance on his play The Duchess of Padua).33 He had also shorn off his long locks and no longer affected the smoking jacket he had been photographed wearing in January 1882.

In fact, the only physical signifiers that Osborne’s is a post-1882 Wilde are the rings (Wilde wore a seal ring in 1882; he adopted the scarab ring later) and his wrinkled and chubby face. The face actually seems chubbier than Wilde’s ever was, and Osborne may owe a debt to Max Beerbohm’s unflattering caricatures.

So, at what time did Osborne intend to depict Wilde? The best clue is the artist’s reference to the Constance sculpture: “[i]t is significant that Oscar’s first homosexual encounter occurred when she was at this stage of pregnancy with her second child.” It is therefore likely that Osborne meant to situate both Constance and Wilde in 1886. The conflicting elements are probably due to the 1882 Sarony portraits fixing our image of how Wilde looked, and the fact that biographies tend to skim over Wilde’s career in the late 1880s (when he was primarily a book reviewer and magazine editor) to more quickly arrive at his most successful phase in the early 1890s.

The result of Osborne placing – or intending to place – Wilde in 1886, combined with a number of other choices discussed below, is that it guides the viewer of the monument to reflect upon this particular moment and discourages contemplation of other aspects of Wilde’s life and work.

Before discussing this point further, I will consider how Osborne has depicted Wilde’s facial expressions.

The Truth of Masks

Wilde saw life in theatrical terms, once memorably remarking that “[t]he world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”34 While imprisoned in Reading Gaol, he would write in the document later known as De Profundis: “I thought life was going to be a brilliant comedy [....] I found it to be a revolting and repellent tragedy.”35

He was also fascinated by the concept of masks, noting that “[a] mask tells us more than a face.”

Osborne has combined both of these ideas in his design for Wilde’s face. In the artist’s own words:

The expressions I have in his face [are] kind of a more sad, and sombre, and thoughtful expression on the right hand side of his face, and then a more happy, optimistic expression on the left hand side of his face. And this is really to represent the divided nature which he had. And it’s sort of a bit like the comedy/tragedy masks which sprung from Greek theatre.

Wilde, sombre. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

Wilde, optimistic. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

The cover of Éibhear Walshe’s book Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Modern Ireland, showing the Wilde figure from the front.

The “DreamWorks Face”. Image: TV Tropes.

Osborne’s original idea, as I understand it, was that, if visitors approached the monument from the right, their first view of the Wilde figure would show him in profile and reveal only his more positive expression. After passing the monument, visitors who turned back would see only his more negative expression.

This is an interesting idea that demonstrates, like so many other aspects of the monument, that Osborne has thought deeply about Wilde’s character. However, I am unconvinced that his sculpture realises the idea in a way that is easily legible by the viewer. Smith sums up her perception of Wilde’s expression as follows:

[R]ather than recognize the dichotomy Osborne intends to represent, what we see when standing in front of the statue, surely the most favoured viewing position, is Wilde’s odd, confused expression, which in turn leaves us rather confused.36

I agree with Smith that the front view of the statue is likely the most favoured position. Mike Brown’s photograph for Reuters taken on the day of the unveiling shows the statue from the front, as do photographs published soon afterwards in The Wildean, the journal of the Oscar Wilde Society, and on the cover of Éibhear Walshe’s book Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Modern Ireland.37 Searches on the photo sharing website Flickr and on social media also suggest that people are most interested in this perspective, though profile views are also fairly popular.

Smith finds the combination of the sombre and optimistic expressions “odd” and “confused”. Shawn Pogatchnik, who wrote about the unveiling for Associated Press, thought Wilde was “smirking”.38 To me the half smile, single raised eyebrow, and downwards heavy-lidded gaze suggest smugness, self-satisfaction, and perhaps even haughtiness.

The expression, or one very much like it, has been noticed elsewhere: in popular American animation. The “DreamWorks Face”, as it has been dubbed, combines an asymmetrical smirk with a single raised eyebrow and half-closed eyes, and is often seen in promotional images. As the TV Tropes website puts it:

It’s the expression that tells you the hero is going to be up to no good, and is much cooler than any of those classic, mainstream, conformist wimps those other studios produce [....] It’s the facial expression form of hip, sassy and snarky dialogue.39

The expression may therefore cue the popular image of Wilde as a purveyor of witty one-liners (and perhaps reinforces the myth, prevalent on social media, that he was known for his devastating put-downs).

But another reading is possible, a reading prompted by the juxtaposition of Wilde and the figure of Dionysus.

Male Gaze

The figure of Wilde is orientated to face his former family home, and the accompanying pillars are placed such that, if one were to stand with one’s back to the figure of Wilde and look directly between them, one would be gazing at 1 Merrion Square.

A view of the north-west corner of Merrion Square, with a line between the Wilde figure and the door of 1 Merrion Square. The two pillars are marked with circles. (Click to enlarge.)

Viewed from pillar of “Art”, Wilde seems (to me) to be gazing at Dionysus. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

The Wilde figure viewed from slightly to the right, where his expression seems most similar to the “DreamWorks Face”. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

A plaster bust of the Hermes of Praxiteles at the Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge University, similar to that owned by Wilde. Image: © Rob Marland

Narcissus, or Dionysus, from a model found in Pompeii. Wilde may have owned a copy. Image: Rotherham Heritage Services/ArtUK.

Osborne has described how “Oscar gazes between the two [pillars ...] towards his childhood home”, and has informed me that his more precise intention was for Wilde to gaze towards the door of the home. The door is at the left of the building; a line drawn between Wilde’s head and the door would pass between the pillars and be slightly nearer to the Dionysus than the Constance figure.

I would not contradict an artist’s stated intention, but after examining photographs taken of the monument from multiple angles I believe that viewers are most likely to perceive that Wilde’s gaze is directed towards the torso of Dionysus than the door of 1 Merrion Square.

In this I am in agreement with Smith, who refers to “[t]he direction of the statue’s gaze towards the male torso”, but not with Thomas Dunn, who writes in his 2014 article about the monument that “Wilde’s gaze is positioned firmly between” the bronzes. Dunn does concede, though, that “[b]y standing within the line of sight from either pillar, I can convince myself that Wilde is devoting at least some attention to that position.”40

The maquette submitted by Osborne to the competition for the Guinness commission, which can be seen in Jerusha McCormack’s book Wilde the Irishman alongside images of the maquettes of the five other finalists,41 also complicates matters. Wilde appears to be gazing at the flower he holds in his right hand. He is certainly not gazing at the torso.

If one perceives that, in the final sculpture, Wilde is gazing at the torso, his expression can be read as that of a man lasciviously ogling a beautiful youth.

Those who are familiar with Wilde’s biography will know that he was convicted not for his relationship with the aristocratic Lord Alfred Douglas, as is often assumed, but for his liaisons with a number of working-class “renters”, or male sex workers. In Osborne’s monument this uneven power dynamic may seem to be emphasised by Wilde’s position, perched high up on his rock, above a torso sculpted at a smaller scale.

Osborne has stated that Dionysus “was the god of wine and youth and theatre; all those things were of great interest to Wilde”, and he “had a plaster cast of a statue of this god in his study in [his home at] Tite Street.” The truth is slightly different. Dionysus was the god of wine and theatre, as well as fertility, but Hebe was the goddess of youth. And the statue in Wilde’s study was a full size bust of Hermes (Praxiteles’ composition includes the infant Dionysus, but Wilde’s plaster cast almost certainly did not), though Wilde did display in his dining room a bronze figurine supposed to be Narcissus, probably the sculpture that was discovered at Pompeii in 1862 and later identified as Dionysus.42

But no matter: the god was certainly a reference point for Wilde. In De Profundis he explains how:

The two deep suggestive figures of Greek mythology were, for religion, Demeter, an earth-goddess, not one of the Olympians, and, for art, Dionysus, the son of a mortal woman to whom the moment of his birth had proved the moment of her death also.43

It is clear that Osborne’s decision to include a sculpture of Dionysus in his composition was shaped by the relevance of this particular god to Wilde’s life, perhaps more by this passage in Wilde’s prison letter than by the sculptures in Wilde’s home.

Dionysus has other thematic resonances, as Dunn notes:

[T]he torso also can be read as symbolizing same-sex desire if the viewer is cued to recognize the statuette as Dionysus by a guidebook or tour guide. In ancient Greece, representations of Dionysus often associated him with complex traits that contemporary audiences frequently align with homosexuality in a man, including androgyny, effeminacy, or other supposedly womanly characteristics.44

Because the sculpture is fragmented, lacking head and limbs, Osborne states that it “represents not any particular body, but the unattainable or lost ideal that is Art.” But it may also inadvertently point to the anonymity of the young men in Wilde’s life (Edward Shelley, Alfred Wood, and Charles Parker are hardly household names),45 and the insensitive manner in which Wilde treated them (“I grew careless of the lives of others”, he admits in De Profundis: “I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on”).46

Here I am reminded of the efforts of the American comedian Marcia Belsky to highlight Hollywood’s tendency to depict women as decontextualised parts, often without heads, often sexualised, often gazed upon by men.47 Similarly, the torso of Dionysus can be interpreted as less an objet d’art than a sex object subject to male gaze.

A marble statuette of the young Dionysus, including penis and buttocks. Image: Metropolitan Museum of New York.

However, this sexualised reading of the Dionysus may be blunted somewhat by the artist’s decision to truncate the figure at the waist, leaving only a hint of pubic hair and the top of the buttocks. Torsos of Dionysus that survive from antiquity minus their head and limbs are often broken at the thighs, leaving intact the buttocks and groin area (though the penis is often damaged).48

The slight rotation of the figure in about 2016, previously noted, may have the same effect if we perceive that it shifts Wilde’s gaze from what is visible of the figure’s buttocks to its right flank. This rotation may have been a conscious choice, or simply an unintended consequence of the repairs made to the pillars at that time.

But there are perhaps echoes here of Wilde’s self-censorship of passages in The Picture of Dorian Gray that he felt suggested too plainly that Dorian’s hidden sin was sodomy.49

The ambiguity in how we perceive Wilde and his relationship to the torso is increased yet further when we widen our field of vision to include the figure of Constance.

Little Woman

As I have noted, Osborne chose to depict Constance during her second pregnancy, thereby locating the sculpture at the time of Wilde’s affair with Robert Ross. Her nakedness emphasises her physicality and adds to the contrast with the nearby figure of the naked male torso of Dionysus. If Wilde is perceived as looking at the torso, he is also looking away from Constance.

This reading is reinforced by the fact that the sad side of Wilde’s face is the side nearest to Constance and the happy side, the nearest to Dionysus.

Constance photographed with her first son, Cyril. Image: Wikimedia.

Constance (in her current, correct orientation) looks over her right shoulder at her husband. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

Constance stares “accusingly” at Wilde. Image: William Murphy/Flickr.

Constance’s posture, too, is relevant. Her hands, placed on her belly, seem to protect her unborn child. She can be seen embracing her first son, Cyril, in the same way in an 1889 photograph, which is also the best image we have of her characteristic hairstyle of coils piled on top of the head, suggesting that Osborne used it as a reference. That her body is turned away from Wilde may imply that she is protecting the child from her husband, or perhaps that she fears he will be an unreliable parent. Her glance back at Wilde over her shoulder may convey her reluctance to quit their relationship (the final figure differs in this respect from Osborne’s maquette, which seems to show Constance with her head not turned but tilted slightly forward, perhaps suggesting resignation or a focus on her pregnancy).

I am prepared to admit that this reading may be supported by an awareness of Constance’s biography: that she was often left by Wilde with little money to sustain the family home, while he was away writing or cavorting with young men (“feasting with panthers”, he termed it); that she had an opportunity, likely unfulfilled, to pursue an affair with a family friend; that she would eventually be compelled to flee with her children to the continent after her husband’s conviction; that she hoped for a reconciliation of sorts, a reconciliation that became unthinkable when Wilde reunited with Douglas after his release from prison.

However, it seems that Osborne really is inviting us to reflect on Constance’s thoughts and feelings towards Wilde. Firstly, he must have conceived of the orientation of the Constance figure as an important element of the overall composition, or he would not have felt it necessary to reposition it as he had originally intended after noticing the City Council had placed it back to front (interestingly, William Murphy, a photographer who regularly visits the monument, describes overhearing tour guides “coming up with stories” to explain the meaning of Constance’s incorrect orientation).50 Secondly, Osborne has described Constance as “staring slightly accusingly” at Wilde.51

What does Osborne imagine Constance is accusing Wilde of? Before Wilde sought to prosecute the Marquess of Queensberry for libel for leaving a card at Wilde’s club accusing him of “posing as a somdomite [sic]”, Constance may or may not have suspected that her husband’s coterie of young male admirers were more than just friends. We cannot know for sure.

Perhaps Osborne is referencing the memoirs of Frank Harris, who claimed that Wilde once told him that:

When I married, my wife was a beautiful girl, white and slim as a lily, with dancing eyes and gay rippling laughter like music. In a year or so the flower-like grace had all vanished; she became heavy, shapeless, deformed: she dragged herself around the house in uncouth misery with drawn blotched face and hideous body, sick at heart because of our love. It was dreadful. I tried to be kind to her; forced myself to touch and kiss her; but she was sick always, and – oh! I cannot recall it, it is all loathsome. … I used to wash my mouth and open the window to cleanse my lips in the pure air. Oh, nature is disgusting; it takes beauty and defiles it: it defaces the ivory-white body we have adored, with the vile cicatrices of maternity: it befouls the altar of the soul. [....] How can one desire what is shapeless, deformed, ugly? Desire is killed by maternity; passion buried in conception.52

Harris is notoriously untrustworthy, and it is implausible that he could have recalled verbatim such a long speech, just one of many in his two volumes of Wilde’s “Life and Confessions”. Nevertheless, there are reasons to suspect that the story contains a grain of truth.53 We might, then, interpret Constance as accusing Wilde of withdrawing from the marital bed.

In any case, one does not need to be familiar with Constance’s biography or to have read Harris to reach this conclusion. Surely everyone who contemplates the monument comes away with only one interpretation: that Wilde is turning his attention from Constance to appreciate male rather than female beauty.

As Dunn writes:

For visitors to the Wilde monument, these two statuettes can be read as signifying two poles of human sexuality—heterosexuality and homosexuality—as constructed through the conventional male/female gender binary. The hyper-masculinized statuette of Dionysus atop the Pillar of Art represents the male gender, and, when put into conversation with the Wilde statue a few feet away, also portrays a male/male desire, potentially akin to homosexuality.”54

We could think of Wilde as in the act of realising or accepting his true sexuality, but an equally valid and more troubling possibility is that we see Wilde in the act of choosing his sexuality. This is reinforced, I think, by the equidistant positioning of the pillars either side of Wilde and their identical appearance, almost as if the two bronzes are placed on scales and are being weighed up against one another.

This is a problem that has also occasionally been evident in writings about Wilde. For example, Éibhear Walshe has identified the “reductive habit” of some critics “of interpreting the formation of sexual identity as driven by intellectual choice rather than hormonal inclination.”55

Dunn has another interesting interpretation of the matching appearance and position of the two pillars: “not only are both homo- and heterosexual desires present within the monument, but also each is represented with equal validity.”56

That is to say, the viewer is not guided to think of Wilde as gay or straight.

I will return to the question of Wilde’s sexuality momentarily, but before I do I would like to address another point about the depiction of Constance.

Constance has often been sidelined in the story of Wilde’s life, a product perhaps of Lord Alfred Douglas demanding our attention in death as much as he demanded Wilde’s attention in life. Biographies by Anne Clark Amor and Franny Moyle have succeeded in shifting focus back to Constance.57 Although it is surely the case that, if not for her marriage to Wilde, Constance would be forgotten today, we should remember that she was a person in her own right: an author, and an advocate for dress reform. Osborne’s sculpture, which shows her at reduced scale, naked, pregnant, and entirely in relation to her husband, obscures these facts.

The Crouching Venus. Image: Wikimedia.

The artist has stated that

Oscar Wilde loved all things Greek and he felt it was the very pinnacle of human civilisation, especially the Hellenistic period. So the two sculptures the other side of the path from the main figure [are] bronzes.

This accounts for Constance being naked: Ancient Greek sculptures of women often are. Indeed, Constance’s posture recalls the Crouching Venus, a Hellenistic model of Venus surprised at her bath, of which several Roman copies in marble survive. The nakedness also serves a practical purpose, rendering Constance’s pregnancy more easily legible than if she had been depicted wearing one of her customary loose-fitting dresses.

But the choice to depict Constance as if she were a Greek statue also compels us to see her through the eyes of her philhellenic husband, further subordinating her to him. Here, she is Demeter as Wilde thought of her, in opposition to Dionysus: “an earth-goddess, not one of the Olympians”.

Dublin City Council’s materials have described the sculpture of Constance as representing “the theme of life”, while the Dionysus represents “the theme of art.”58 This is apparently how Osborne wanted viewers to think of the two bronzes from the outset, as a notice about the monument published shortly after the unveiling in The Wildean makes clear: “Dionysos, the Greek god of drama and wine represents Art, while a pregnant, naked Constance represents Life.”59

At least one member of the Oscar Wilde Society wasn’t pleased about this, and her letter to the editor of the society’s journal, printed in the following issue, is worth quoting in full:

Women have grown used to seeing themselves depicted as (ornamental) functions in men’s lives, and have become resigned to the fact. But sometimes the context is so grotesque that this cannot be overlooked. The absurdity of the concept hits you right in the face. Such seems to me the case with the new group of statues put up in Merrion Square. In The Wildean [vol.] 12 there is a report about a statue of Oscar surrounded by Dionysos and ‘a pregnant, naked Constance representing Life’.

Now why any naked woman should act as an allegory for anything with a capital letter remains a question of personal tastes and interests. But for a Victorian one, and in the light of Oscar’s inclinations, this is utterly inappropriate and ‘hitting below the intellect’. The artist could just as well have produced a naked Alfred Douglas representing whatever quality with a capital letter – Love, Youth, or simply Arrogance.60

As well as reflecting on these words we might also consider the fact that Dublin is home to very few sculptures of real Irish women (excluding representations of fictional or allegorical figures, such as Molly Malone and Anna Livia). Last year Paula Murphy counted only five, three of which are of Countess Markievicz, the first woman elected to the Westminster Parliament.61 She neglected to include Constance in her list but this is hardly surprising when the sculpture is an accessory to the monument to Wilde.

The ease with which Constance can be overlooked will be hammered home for any visitors to the monument who avail themselves of the Talking Statues invitation to “Hear Wilde here”. They will hear Andrew Scott reading John Banville’s script, which places the following words into Oscar’s mouth:

If you turn your back to me, as did so many at the close of my bright day, and ignore that fecundated female on her plinth, you will see over there on the corner a fine house in which, in 1854, I was born.

Some of you will have noticed the error: Wilde wasn’t born in the house on the corner, 1 Merrion Square, but at the former family home, a short walk away on Westland Row. But the biggest crime is the phrase “fecundated female”. Not even Frank Harris could have come up with that one.

Drawing a Line

After all this, what are we to make of Osborne’s monument?

Writing in 2012 Sarah Smith concluded that:

Contrary to the positive reaction of the press, it is difficult to celebrate wholeheartedly this long overdue commemoration of Wilde. The particular selection of design for the statue, while finally giving visibility to this great writer, disappointingly perpetuates the notion of homosexuality as troubling to Irishness by producing a stereotyped vision of homosexuality above an acknowledgement of Wilde’s literary contributions to Irish culture.62

Similarly, Peter Costello has described the statue as suggesting

a Wilde who had, I think, no existence in real life, and illuminates nothing about himself or his work but perhaps a great deal about his present-day image as an icon of gay culture.63

Both certainly have a point, though also relevant here is Alan Sinfield’s thesis that the stereotype of the gay man was based, in large part, on Wilde himself. During Wilde’s own time, Sinfield points out, he “was perceived as effeminate, to be sure; but not, thereby, as queer. In the mid twentieth century, effeminacy and queerness became virtually synonymous, along with the rest of the Wildean manner.” This means that “Wilde and his writings look queer because our stereotypical notion of male homosexuality derives from Wilde, and our ideas about him.”64

Perhaps, then, Osborne’s monument appears to depict a stereotype of a gay man because Wilde – and many of the characters he created – embodied the elements of that stereotype: “effete, camp, leisured or aspiring to be, aesthetic, amoral, witty, insouciant, charming, spiteful, dandified.”65

Dunn offers an alternative reading: that the monument, by referencing Wilde’s relationships with women as well as men,

challenge[s] conventional, gay understandings of Wilde’s sexuality [....] [G]iven the dominant memory of Wilde as the exemplary gay man, if the audience anticipates any representation of sexual desire within the monument, it should be a representation of same-sex desire [....] But the symbolic and material presence of both Wilde’s heterosexual and homosexual experiences within the commemorative zone suggests intent on the part of the monument’s creator for audiences to remember Wilde’s sexuality differently—as complex and writ large throughout his entire life.66

Whether or not we consider Osborne’s depiction of Wilde accurate, stereotyped, or challenging, we might wish to consider whether the monument, so lauded for its beauty and usefulness when it was unveiled twenty-five years ago, still serves a purpose for us today.

There are various schools of thought about how Wilde’s life and work can best be understood. A decade ago Jarlath Killeen gave a roll call of the different Wildes to be found in the academic literature: “the ‘Gay’ Wilde, ‘Irish’ Wilde, ‘Materialist’ Wilde, ‘Idealist’ Wilde, ‘Catholic’ Wilde.”67 Some Wildes have waxed and waned in popularity over time. In 2000, Ian Small identified the “Gay”, “Irish”, and “Consumerist” Wildes as the trends of the nineties.68 Sixteen years later, Helena Gurfinkel would argue that “the 1990s explorations of Wilde’s life and work honed in almost exclusively on his sexuality.”69 The positioning of Wilde as the archetypal gay martyr, for which Small held Richard Ellmann’s 1987 biography largely responsible, culminated, as least as far as the wider public was concerned, in Brian Gilbert’s biopic.70

Julian Mitchell, the writer of the script for Wilde (1997), described in an interview for The Wildean how he and Gilbert had approached the screenplay:

We decided to consider the question: why is Oscar still of such interest a hundred years after his life and death? There are many different answers to that, but to me the most important is that this great romance that he had with Bosie, and which led to this terrible tragedy, remains one of the great love stories of the last hundred years.71

Merlin Holland, for one, had mixed feelings about the film, describing how he felt that it sensationalised Wilde’s sexuality at the expense of his artistic and social achievements:

Those for whom this is a first introduction to Wilde will ask themselves whether they have been duped into thinking there is something extraordinary about Wilde when all they feel is pity for a man broken in prison for what today is not even an offence.72

In this assessment, Holland may have been ahead of his time. Though it is often asserted that Wilde is “more popular today than he has ever been”, I’m not so sure that his reputation is as secure as it seems. A search for his name on social media reveals any number of people, presumably young, grappling with aspects of his behaviour that are less excusable today than they seemed 125 or even twenty-five years ago.

Dunn suggests that Wilde’s legacy does not resonate as strongly for an emerging generation. Queer voices are now more accessible online and in popular media, and reading Wilde to come to terms with one’s sexuality – the experience of many of the generation of McKenna and Fry – has become increasingly rare. “In short,” writes Dunn,

while Wilde’s memory is more “structurally” sound than ever before, its relevance to the generation that constitutes the future of the struggle for the lives and rights of sexual minorities seems uncertain.73

Simon Joyce decided not to include a chapter on Wilde in his 2022 book LGBT Victorians.

Wilde also has a decreasing hold on academics studying queer history. Simon Joyce, the author of the recent book LGBT Victorians, does not include a chapter on the playwright, even though, as he points out, “Oscar Wilde [...] would likely be the first name on many people’s team sheets.”74 Less than a week ago Joyce explained in an interview his reasons for wanting to decentre Wilde and the playwright’s conviction for gross indecency:

If we take that as the standard, it creates the impression that this is a century of misery for sexual and gender non-conforming people, which is simply not true [....] It’s much more uneven than that and much more complex. There are some categories of people who exist quite happily and others who are miserable and punished.75

Oscar may be losing ground to contemporary figures like Elton John, George Takei, and Laverne Cox, as well as figures from the past such as Anne Lister, Fanny and Stella (Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton), and Edward Carpenter.

If Wilde can maintain his grip anywhere, surely it will be on Osborne’s granite boulder, positioned as it is on Wilde’s own home turf, the city where he was born and grew up.

Or perhaps not.

In April 2022 the Dublin City Council conducted a consultation workshop on LGBTQ+ community public art, to discuss the process for commissioning a new major piece of permanent public art representing the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland.76 Part of this discussion addressed the purpose that such a piece of art would serve. One of the points raised was:

We don’t really have any LGBTQ+/Queer public art in Ireland, for example [the] Oscar Wilde memorial statue celebrates him as an artist not as a gay man.

This rather suggests that in 2022 Osborne’s sculpture is read differently by the people for whom it has been assumed it must matter the most than it is by me or by some of the critics I have quoted in this article, who see it as emphasising Wilde’s sexuality at the expense of his status as an artist. In any case, a monument that was once greeted as evidence of progress now seems to stand for something smaller: the artistic achievements of one man. Quite reasonably this is not felt to be sufficient representation of the wider LGBTQ+ community in Ireland today.

Another reason given by participants in the workshop for the need for a new piece of public art was:

It is like drawing a line – a line that says we not going back from this point, we are going forward only.

Back in 1997 Osborne’s monument had drawn a line too. Perhaps we should be heartened by the possibility that that line is now so far behind us that, even if we turn back, we can no longer see it.

The Final Word

While writing this article, as I have learnt more about the monument and how Osborne designed and made it, my overall estimation has not changed: I think the monument has served a purpose and continues to bring joy to its many visitors and admirers, but I am not a fan. However, I have developed a respect for the effort and thought that Osborne put into the commission. Though there are some small errors in his research, it is evident that he has a deep knowledge of and fondness for Wilde, and went to great lengths to depict the writer in a way that reflected his unique personality and life.

If Osborne’s monument fails it is in the artist’s attempt to cram too many ideas into it, some of which work and some of which don’t. But in this he echoes Wilde himself, who always found it easier to add to his writing than subtract; to convert black and white prose into purple poetry; to lengthen rather than trim a melodramatic soliloquy; to go big rather than small.

Wilde was always at his best in the tiniest form, the epigram, and he honed and polished each of his aphorisms until they shone like gems. Osborne’s equivalent might be his delicate sculptures of birds in porcelain, which appear so simple but are the product of deep research and painstaking labour.77

Anyway, I am not at all convinced that I would have preferred Osborne to have lost out to one of the other finalists in Guinness’s competition. Most of their proposed monuments are undemanding and conventional: a standing figure in bronze; a seated figure in bronze; a semi-abstracted face in bronze. Would any of these sculptures have engaged the attention and interest of critics or visitors as Osborne’s has? Here I am reminded of Wilde’s criticism of James McNeill Whistler’s nocturnes and painting of fireworks:

These pictures are certainly worth looking at for about as long as one looks at a real rocket, that is, for somewhat less than a quarter of a minute.78

Osborne’s monument is also proof, if proof were needed, that Wilde was right when he wrote: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Osborne at least gives us something to look at, think about, argue over, and dissect, whether or not we concur with each other or with the artist.

The final word must go to Osborne. Amongst the Wildean quotations that adorn his two pillars is one that the artist selected as having special resonance for himself. That quotation?

“Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”

Quite right.

  1. Sinéad Crowley, “Oscar Wilde Statue is Dublin’s Most Popular Sculpture,” 2 Jun. 2022, https://www.rte.ie/news/2022/0601/1302458-oscar-wilde Accessed 19 Oct. 2022.
  2. Deirdre Mulrooney, “A Geological Odyssey for Oscar as Wilde Gets a New Jade Head,” The Irish Times (Dublin, Ireland), 12 Nov. 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20180521021201/https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-26354523.html Accessed 21 Oct. 2022.
  3. A complete list of the quotes and who chose them can be found on Osborne’s website: https://www.dannyosborne.com/oscar-wilde-monument-1. “Nothing to declare...”: https://www.oscarwildeinamerica.org/quotations/nothing-to-declare.html. “I drink to keep...”: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2021/11/12/drink-body. All accessed 27 Oct. 2022.
  4. https://www.dublincity.ie/dublin-city-parks-strategy/3-public-engagement/34-technology/341-digital-media-and-devices Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.
  5. Oscar Wilde Memorial Guide, https://web.archive.org/web/20200908024319/www.dublincity.ie/DublinArtinParks Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.
  6. https://soundcloud.com/oscar-wilde-memorial-guid Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.
  7. Murphy, P. (1998) The quare on the square: a statue of Oscar Wilde for Dublin, in McCormack, J., Wilde the Irishman, Yale University Press, 127-39, 127.
  8. Holland, M. & Hart-Davis, R. (Eds) (2000) The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, Fourth Estate, 1019.
  9. Smith, S. (2012) Sculpting Irishness: a discussion of Dublin’s commemorative statues of Oscar Wilde and Phil Lynott, Sculpture Journal, 21, 71–82, 76.
  10. Neil McKenna quoted in Waters, C. (2015) Wilde in the fifties, in Fisher, K. & Langlands, R. (Eds), Sex, Knowledge, and Receptions of the Past, Oxford University Press, 265–90, 266. Stephen Fry at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 23 Jan. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZP_mMV9KZg&t=730s Accessed 18 Oct. 2022.
  11. Jeremy Isaacs, “The Importance of Being Tolerant,” The Daily Telegraph (London, UK), 16 May 1997, 24.
  12. Kevin Myers, “Oscar Wilde was Asking for it,” The Sunday Telegraph (London, UK), 18 May 1997, 35; Christopher Hart, “Oscar Wilde: More Sinner than Saint,” The Daily Telegraph (London, UK), 17 Oct. 1997, 28.
  13. Grace Bradberry, “‘I am Destined to Have Some Strange Binge of Trying to Escape from Myself’,” The Times (London, UK), 29 Sep. 1997, 21.
  14. Quotations from Osborne in this article are taken from his website (https://www.dannyosborne.com/oscar-wilde-monument-1); from a 2015 video by Deirdre Mulrooney, In the Studio with Danny Osborne, viewable on the artist’s website; and from an episode of Alan Keane’s The Artist’s Well (17 Apr. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVuaDMF25Jk). All accessed 19 Oct. 2022.
  15. Dan Piepenbring, “A Complete Guide to Flinging in Oscar Wilde,” The Paris Review, 16 Oct. 2014, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/10/16/a-complete-guide-to-flinging-in-oscar-wilde Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.
  16. Complete Letters, 49–50, 50.
  17. Bristow, J., (Ed.) (2005) The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 3: The Picture of Dorian Gray: The 1890 and 1891 Texts, Oxford University Press, 113.15–115.20.
  18. Wilde, O., “The Decorative Arts,” in O’Brien, K., (1982) Oscar Wilde in Canada, Personal Library, 157, 159–60.
  19. E.g. “I think I have so conceived it [the plot of The Duchess of Padua] that we shall simultaneously become immortal in one night!” (Oscar Wilde to Mary Anderson, Complete Letters, 180); “[...] leave my book, I beg you, to the immortality that it deserves” (Oscar Wilde to the Editor of the St. James’s Gazette, Complete Letters, 434); “Even the disciple has his uses. He stands behind one's throne, and at the moment of one's triumph whispers in one's ear that, after all, one is immortal” (A Few Maxims For The Instruction Of The Over-Educated); “Art is immortal. It cannot be killed, for as long as man has imagination he will find a way to express its intentions in art” (“The Only Oscar,” Decatur Morning Herald, 9 March 1882, 4).
  20. Complete Letters, 646–7, 651.
  21. Mead, D. (1998) Wilde in wax, The Wildean, 12, 7–11, 9.
  22. E.g. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-oscar-wilde-irish-poet-and-playwright-barry-mullan.html Accessed 20 Oct. 2022.
  23. “Oscar Wilde,” The Biograph and Review (London, UK), Aug. 1880, 130⁠–5, repr. Marland, R. (2022) Oscar Wilde: The Complete Interviews, Little Eye, 25–31, 26.
  24. Smith, 74.
  25. Bristow, 173.1–2.
  26. The Truth of Masks, in Guy, J., Ed. (2007) The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 4: Criticism: Historical Criticism, Intentions, The Soul of Man, Oxford University Press, 228.24–5.
  27. Breuer, R. (1993) Paradox in Oscar Wilde, Irish University Review, 33, 224–35.
  28. Guy, 90.22–7.
  29. Complete Letters, 544; Holland, M. (2003) Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, Fourth Estate, 33–4.
  30. Complete Letters, 241–2.
  31. Mikhail, E. H. (Ed) (1979) Oscar Wilde: Interviews and Recollections, Macmillan, 355.
  32. Mikhail, 158, 166, 270, 376, 284, 412–3, 464.
  33. E.g. “Mr. Wilde has grown quite plump” (“Mr. Oscar Wilde’s Hair,” The New York Herald (New York, NY), 12 Aug. 1883, 102; repr. Marland, 545–7, 547).
  34. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, in Small, I. (Ed.) (2017) The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 8: The Short Fiction, Oxford University Press, 57.268.
  35. Complete Letters, 705.
  36. Smith, 75.
  37. See e.g., “On the Wilde Side,” Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, ON), 30 Oct. 1997, 8; Murphy, J. D. (1998) A new sculpture in Merrion Square, The Wildean, 12, 12–13, 12; Walshe, É. (2011) Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Modern Ireland, Cork University Press.
  38. Shawn Pogatchnik, “Playwright Makes his Dublin Return,” The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH), 21 Dec. 1997, A21.
  39. DreamWorks Face, https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DreamworksFace Accessed 25 Oct. 2022.
  40. Smith, 74; Dunn, 223–4.
  41. The images are on plates between pages 112 and 113 in McCormack.
  42. Murphy, 135-6.
  43. Complete Letters, 746.
  44. Dunn, 222.
  45. Ross, I. (2019) ‘I took pleasure where if pleased me’, The Wildean, 55, 90–8, 91.
  46. Complete Letters, 730.
  47. The Headless Women of Hollywood, https://headlesswomenofhollywood.com/About Accessed 25 Oct. 2022.
  48. See e.g. the torsos at the Metropolitan Museum of New York (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/258555), the Brooklyn Museum (https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/107585), and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (https://www.gardnermuseum.org/experience/collection/11398) All accessed 27 Oct. 2022.
  49. Frankel, N. (Ed) (2011) The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition, Belknap Harvard, 10–12.
  50. E.g. https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/31400904180 Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.
  51. Danny Osborne to Rob Marland, personal communication, 22 Oct. 2022. See also the text of the Dublin City Council’s guide to the monument, which describes the figure in these words: “This [sculpture] depicts Oscar Wilde’s wife, Constance [...] as she stares accusingly across the path at her husband Oscar.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20200917080244/http://www.dublincity.ie/DublinArtInParks/English)
  52. Harris, F. (1918) Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions, Frank Harris, 486.
  53. Antony Edmonds discusses this point on his website, http://www.oscarwilde.org.uk/oscar-wilde.html Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.
  54. Dunn, 222.
  55. Walshe, cited in Haslam, R. (2014) The hermeneutic hazards of Hibernicizing Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920, 57, 37–58, 50.
  56. Dunn, 223.
  57. Amor, A. C. (1983) Mrs Oscar Wilde: A Woman of Some Importance, Sidgwick &kson; Moyle, F. (2011) Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde, John Murray.
  58. See https://web.archive.org/web/20200917080244/http://www.dublincity.ie/DublinArtInParks/English and https://web.archive.org/web/20190601031831/http://www.dublincity.ie/sites/default/files/content//RecreationandCulture/DublinCityParks/Documents/ArtinParksFinalPDF.pdf
  59. Murphy, 13.
  60. Streibel, C. (1998) The sculpture of Wilde in Merrion Square, The Wildean, 13, 59.
  61. Paula Murphy, “Ireland’s Sculptures: Where Are the Women?” The Irish Times, 21 Apr. 2021, https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/visual-art/ireland-s-sculptures-where-are-the-women-1.4539459 Accessed 26 Oct. 2022
  62. Smith, 75.
  63. Costello, P. (2014) Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde, Homosexuality and Modern Ireland by Éibhear Walshe, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, 102, 121–3, 121.
  64. Sinfield, A. (1994) The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment, Columbia University Press, vii.
  65. Sinfield, vi.
  66. Dunn, 222–3.
  67. Killeen, J. (2011) Oscar Wilde, Irish Academic Press, 1.
  68. Small, I. (2000) Oscar Wilde: Recent Research, Greensboro, NC, 3.
  69. Gurfinkel, H. (2016) The second Wilde revival: current trends in Oscar Wilde scholarship, Kritikon Litterarum, 43, 143-66.
  70. Small, 6.
  71. Mead, D. (1997) The film “Wilde”: an interview with Julian Mitchell, The Wildean, 10, 8-22, 8–9.
  72. Holland, M. (1998) The film “Wilde”: a wasted opportunity? The Wildean, 12, 30–3.
  73. Dunn, 214.
  74. Joyce, S. (2022) LGBT Victorians, Oxford University Press, 259.
  75. Jennifer L. Williams, “LGBT Victorians: W&M Professor’s Book Provides New View of Gender, Sexuality in 19th Century,” W&M News, 21 Oct. 2022, https://news.wm.edu/2022/10/21/lgbt-victorians-wm-professors-book-provides-new-view-of-gender-sexuality-in-19th-century Accessed 26 Oct. 2022.
  76. Dublin LGBTQ+Pride & Dublin City Council Arts Office, Consultation Workshop on LGBTQ+ Community Public Art, 28th April 2022 https://councilmeetings.dublincity.ie/documents/s37811/5.%20Update%20Report%20Consultation%20Workshop%20on%20the%20LGBTQ%20Engagement%20%20Ray%20Yeates%20City%20Arts%20Officer.pdf Accessed 26 Oct. 2022
  77. A documentary about Osborne’s birds in porcelain can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3coJW88bhOs
  78. Stokes, J. & Turner, M. W. (Eds) (2013) The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 6: Journalism, Vol. 1, Oxford University Press, No. 1, 321–3.