Napoleon Sarony, Oscar Wilde, 1882

Napoleon Sarony, Oscar Wilde

Napoleon Sarony, (Canadian, active in Great Britain, 1821-1896), Oscar Wilde, 1882. Albumen Print Cabinet Card, 15 x 13 in. Gift of D. Frederick Baker from the Baker/Pisano Collection, 2012.1.18

Oscar Wilde’s portrait was made during his North American lecture-tour by New York society and celebrity portrait photographer Napoleon Sarony. Printed as the calling cards known as cabinet cards, these publicity photographs of Wilde were widely reproduced during his tour. And versions of this costuming and pose circulated further through advertisements, cartoons, and collectable cigar cards. While the photograph could be taken as shallow surface, it nevertheless sets the substance of the body in an alchemical process of figuration with the power to transform and fix that which it seems merely to copy. And, in the wake of the Wilde sodomy trials in 1895, this figuration of the dandy became calcified as the image-type of the modern homosexual.