Oscar Wilde, as he really was?

Of all the many photographs of Oscar Wilde, this is my favourite. Here he is, caught off guard at a party in 1892. If I were writing an extended piece on Wilde and needed an image to sustain me, this would be the one. One feels something of the presence, even 130 years after the event. Exquisite though the far more formal studio portraits by Downey and Sarony are, they seem, like so many photographs of the period, to place one at a distance from reality rather than bring one closer. That paradox in itself suggests a Wildean epigram: one loathes the modern obsession with photography; it reveals all the labour of art and none of its enchantment.

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