The Last Four

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The Sarony Photographs

It has long been assumed that all of the 1882 photographs of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony were taken during the same visit to his studio. Indeed, in all of Wilde studies there does not appear to be any record of an assertion to the contrary.

However, there is a convincing case to be made that the LAST FOUR photographs were taken at a later date.

Hair Splitting

The principal reason for doubting the theory of one sitting is the length of Wilde’s hair in the last four photographs.

​I believe this difference has not been previously noted because seldom are the photographs taken as a group. Moreover, if they are, they are usually viewed in sequence and rarely studied side-by-side as presented here.

On this basis it is difficult to believe that the 1882 Sarony image (from the last four) on the right was taken on the same day as the one from the first series on the left.

Further, there is much circumstantial evidence that reinforces the idea that Wilde returned to Sarony (perhaps quite later in the year) for a separate sitting for the last four photographs.

The most apparent indicator of this is the fact that the ones with the longer hair are numerically the last four—thus allowing the possibility that these four were not only taken last, but later. Any other numbering would tend to preclude this.

​To see all the Sarony photographs of Wilde view this post in conjunction with the definitive archive on my web site here:

Let us also look at Wilde’s dress in the photographs.

What’s The Difference?

In none of the last four does Wilde have an overcoat—which he has in the others which were taken in a very cold January. In fact, the last four are the ONLY ones out of 29 in which Wilde is adorned instead with a cape and hat, and he has them in all four.

Also unique to the last four are Wilde’s trousers and jacket.

​We know from contemporary reports that Wilde changed clothes during the sittings only once—from his long pants into his knee breeches—but the trousers in the last photographs are clearly different again, indicating a separate visit.

Finally, the jacket with edge piping, although similar is NOT the same jacket in the last four—as it seems to have gained a pocket. An additional curiosity is that in the earlier pictures the middle button is the only one buttoned, whereas in the last pictures the middle button is the only one unbuttoned.

To see more visit my web site page: The Last Four

© John Cooper, 2018

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a independent scholar who has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde. He is a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America. For the last 20 years Cooper has specialised in Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour becoming a consultant on Wilde’s American experience to biographers and the wider media. Cooper lectures on Wilde and has conducted new and unique research into Oscar Wilde visits to New York culminating in a guided walking tour. Online he is a popular blogger and the creator of the noncommercial archive 'Oscar Wilde in America’ which incorporates his work on the Sarony photographs, and a detailed documentary verification of Wilde’s American lecture tour. In 2012 Cooper rediscovered Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

5 thoughts on “The Last Four”

    1. The date of the first visit was January 5th, 1882. I have a primary source for this. The date of any second visit is not known at this stage. Possibility, perhaps probability, of Wilde accompanying Lillie Langtry for her visit to Sarony in the Fall. Wiil advise but I’m currently deciding which is the better typo: Saxony or Sarong?


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