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Double Take

—Another Photo Mystery—

You have probably seen both of these photographs on separate occasions over the years, and, if you’re like me, thought you had been looking at the same one—perhaps because Oscar looks about same in each.

But when they are viewed together it becomes clear they are not the same photograph. Everyone has moved slightly, Oscar perhaps the least. It is clear these are different pictures.

The photo on the left can be found in Ellmann (1987)—and, as far as I can see, nowhere else. The one on the right is only slightly more common, and can be found occasionally online, but rarely, if ever, in books.

Despite the relative rarity of these images, there is nothing mysterious about their production. Photographs were often taken in pairs like this, and Oscar Wilde became no stranger to them (see features below).

The mystery lies in identifying who Wilde’s friends are. The unsourced information we have is that the photograph was taken at Oxford in 1875, and that, apart from Oscar (standing), there is his brother Willie (right).

In a caption to this picture in Ellmann the person to the left is identified as Wilde’s Balliol friend J. E. C. Bodley, the Whistlerian “Bodelino”, and later writer on French history. This seems correct too, although the only picture of him readily available online is taken from this photograph!

Is all this correct? And who are the other two?

If you know please add a comment to the article below.

Repeating Back

As I pointed out in my studies of the Sarony photographs, it was a fairly common practice in Oscar’s day to take successive exposures of similar poses using a repeating back camera. Many of the Sarony series were taken this way in pairs. To enable this, the camera had a draw-slide attachment which exposed the two halves of a single plate.

The Two Number Nines

For example, take these two nearly identical images of Oscar: in one Wilde is holding his book of Poems (1881) and in the other he is not. (Incidentally, BOTH of these are given the Sarony photograph number 9—which I’ve numbered 9A and 9B. For more on this see the article Twenty-Seven. and this page on the web site)

© John Cooper, 2023

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11 thoughts on “Double Take

  1. John – Some comparisons with other photographs from Wilde’s Oxford years are needed. See in particular Merlin Holland’s The Wilde Album pages 34-37 and Peter Vernier’s article on ‘Newdigate’ Photographs of Oscar Wilde in The Wildean No 10 January 1997

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  2. Ellmann almost certainly ‘lifted’ the pic from Shane Leslie’s *Memoir of JEC Bodley* (1930) p. 24 where the other two are named as ‘RJE Childers (Balliol)’ at the back and ‘LO Goldschmidt (Christ Church)’ at the front. Correspondence with a Childers descendant shows that in fact these two should be labelled the other way round.The Clark has an original of the photo Ellmann used. This also means that the two lower pix on p. 35 of *The Wilde Album* are wrongly labelled. ‘Unidentified’ should be ‘Arnold Fitzgerald’ and ‘Arnold Fitzgerald’ should be ‘Rowland Childers’

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  3. There’s also a rarely published doublet of the deathbed photo – the bay leaves and rosary are in slightly different positions. It’s in Sherard’s The Real Oscar Wilde and the Sotheby’s catalogue of 29/10/04.

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    1. You’re right, there is a version in Sherard’s The Real Oscar Wilde, which I’ve not seen it before. But I’m not altogether sure that it’s not just a fuzzier print. I shall investigate.

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    1. Hi Eleanor, thanks for that–I’m sure this chimes with what Merlin was saying abut the photograph held at the Clark. Thanks for the finding aid; I shall investigate.

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