Archive for December 5, 2011

Oscar Wilde’s tomb by Jacob Epstein

December 5, 2011 2 comments

It was good to see recently that the wonderful “Modernist Angel” sculpture by Jacob Epstein for Oscar Wilde’s tomb has been cleaned and restored to its former glory…

The monument was originally commissioned in 1909 by Wilde’s lover and possibly closest friend Robbie Ross, for Wilde’s second resting place at Père Lachaise Cemetery in the city of Paris, his first being the Cimetière de Bagneux outside Paris where Wilde “rested” for only 9 years. The commission was a very important one for the 29 year old American sculptor, who had been in London for only a few years and was still suffering the backlash from his work on Charles Holden’s British Medical Association the year before.

Once again however, Epstein fell foul of the Authorities as the work was condemned as being indecent due to its prominent male genitalia, apparently resulting in it being hidden from public view by a tarpaulin. The “offending” item has long since been vandalised and I was rather surprised that this current restoration didn’t look to reinstate the poor thing’s manhood…

The reason for the restoration was the vogue (only a decade or so old, from what I can gather) for leaving lipstick kisses around the monument’s base, the grease from which was beginning to cause significant damage to the limestone.

So the base of the work has now been cleaned and restored and is wrapped up in a glass and steel screen, which looks tasteful enough from the photos, and I am sure is the right thing to do to protect this wonderful piece for future generations etc etc.. Although I can’t help but feel that Oscar himself would almost certainly have preferred the attention and the adoration of the lipstick kisses….

I’ll finish with the rather fine words of Wilde’s Epitaph: chosen by Robbie Ross, carved by Jacob Epstein and taken from The Ballard of Reading Gaol…

“And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn”

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