Paris Museum Loves Oscar Wilde

Your peek into the life of the Paris-loving literary genius

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Oscar Wilde

Source: Napoleon Sarony, Wikimedia commons

Most people exist, and most people have heard this quote at least once in their lives. It comes from Oscar Wilde, an Irish writer who spoke fluent French and was self-professed francophile.

Wilde is most famous for The Picture of Dorian Gray, a story that delves into the dangerous depths of narcissism.

But why would I introduce you to Wilde?

Oscar Wilde lounging with Poems

Source: Napoleon Sarony, public domain

Because this guy had a massive obsession with Paris. And guess what? Paris loved him right back. As a testament to that, Paris’ Petit Palais museum has an exhibit dedicated to his life and work. (As if being buried in Paris’ most famous cemetery wasn’t enough!).

The exhibit “Oscar Wilde: Insolence Incarnate” goes through 15 January 2017 so you’ve got plenty of time to visit Paris to see it.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let me tell you about Wilde while he was still living and breathing – BEFORE he was buried in Père Lachaise aside (that story is for another time, folks).

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1854. From an early age, Wilde showed an interest in reading and writing. This was probably thanks to the influence of his poet mother. Mother knows best, after all.

Wilde excelled in his studies, and graduated from the famous Trinity College in Dublin. Winner of countless awards and scholarships, it was clear even then that Wilde possessed a talent for writing.

Oscar Wilde 1976

Source: Hills & Saunders, 1876, Wikimedia Commons

Wilde moved to London after his studies. There he published his first collection of poems entitled – you guessed it – Poems. (He’s a literary genius but can’t be clever ALL the time).

He spent the next few years of his life lecturing around England and America, solidifying his place in the literary world as a successful writer.

Seven years after Poems, Wilde published his only novel: The Portrait of Dorian Gray. In that prude 1888 England, critics were less than impressed with the book. They criticized its sometimes graphic language and allusions to homosexuality.

Wilde ignored the harsh criticisms and continued to work, producing countless successful plays, like The Importance of being Earnest. You probably have heard quotes from it, even if you didn’t know it was Wilde!

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“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

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Things were going well for Wilde… too well to last, maybe.

Wilde’s homosexuality was somewhat known among his friends and in the art world, and until this point Wilde is mostly left alone for it.

But that changed in 1895.

Oscar Wilde trial makes the papers

Source: The Illustrated Police News, May 4 1895

Wilde began an affair with a man, and when a nasty acquaintance hears of it, all hell breaks loose. After a series of bogus charges, Wilde is eventually convicted for “gross indecency”, and is sentenced to two years in prison.

Understandably, this changes everything for Wilde.

Oscar Wilde's prison cell

Source: user Jack1956, Wikimedia Commons

He emerges from prison broken, sick, and filled with despair. He flees to France, and in 1900 the great poet dies in great poverty, in Paris. He was 46.

To this day, Wilde is a celebrated talent. It comes as no surprise then, that the Petit Palais in Paris is holding an exhibition dedicated to his life.

Petit Palais paris

The exhibition includes a collection of the author’s most significant manuscripts, and copies of his books.

There are also portraits of Wilde’s family and friends and miscellaneous memorabilia, in order to get a better look into Wilde’s personal relationships.

You will also find a collection of famous paintings that Wilde wrote about when he was working as an art critic (what didn’t this guy do, right?!).

I’m not going to say much else – I want you to see this Petit Palais exhibit for yourself! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to have a drink at the lovely Petit Palais cafe. I hope you enjoyed this short history lesson on the wonderful Oscar. Wilde. Now, get to reading!

Oscar Wilde: Insolence Incarnate

Petit Palais
Address: Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 (metro Champs-Elysees Clemenceau)
Opening hours: Tu-Su 10am-6pm. Closed Monday
Entrance: 10 euros
Exhibit runs until: 15 January 2017