Visitors to London will often come across many sculptures in the streets which give a fascinating insight into some of London’s characters. One of the larger than life characters of the late 19th century was Oscar Wilde who was an Irish poet and playwright. He became known as a ‘wit’ and became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s and also wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray, a successful novel in the period.
However, despite his success, his involvement in a libel case led to his arrest and conviction. He spent two years in prison, after his release, he left for France and died in Paris at the age of 46. After his death, Wilde’s plays have been performed regularly in London and his life continues to fascinate the latter generations.
During the 1980s and 1990s, fans of Wilde’s work suggested their should be a permanent tribute to him in London and a committee which included Jeremy Isaacs, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen and Seamus Heaney decided on a fitting tribute to the playwright.
In the end, a work by artist Maggi Hambling was chosen for the memorial. The work is inscribed with a quotation from Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”. The sculpture is bench-like green granite sarcophagus, with a bust of Wilde emerging from the upper end, with a hand holding a cigarette.
The sculpture was unveiled in 1998, the location is Adelaide Street which between Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross Station, behind St Martin’s in the Fields church. The reaction to the sculpture was mixed with some who thought it was witty and amusing whilst others thought it was like a Madame Tussauds waxwork.
Due to its location, it is often missed by many visitors but is considered one of the more interesting sculptures in central London.
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