The manuscript of one of Oscar Wilde’s most original and beautiful poems, ‘Les Ballons’, is to be sold on 8 May in Part II of the sale of The Roy Davids Collection Part III: Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets at Bonhams, New Bond Street. It is the only known copy of the entire poem in Wilde’s hand and is estimated at £14,000 - 16,000.
The poem, which was published in 1887, is a perfect fusion of the two artistic styles most associated with Wilde — the Aesthetic Movement and Literary Decadence. It describes the poet’s response to watching children flying balloons in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris where he lived from late January to mid-May 1883 on his return from a successful year long lecture tour of America and Canada. Wilde started work on the poem while he was still in Paris, though it is uncertain when and where the manuscript in the sale was written.
The wording is very similar to that of the final published text although Wilde had yet to give it a title.
The first verse sets the tone and style:
“Against the shifting agate skies
The light and luminous balloons
Dip and drift like satin moons
Drift like silken butterflies”
When Wilde wrote to the illustrator, Bernard Partridge, about the poem he specified that the children should look Japanese. Japan was a major inspiration for the writers and artists of the Aesthetic Movement as well as a significant influence on French Impressionist painter such as Claude Monet of whom Wilde was a great admirer.
The manuscript was formerly in the collection of John Stetson Jr. whose father, also John, invented the Stetson hat.
Poetry: Poetical Manuscripts and Portraits of Poets, is the fruit of 40 years of collecting by the poet and scholar Roy Davids and is the finest collection of poetry ever to come to auction. In Mr David’s own words, “it would now be impossible for the present collection to be even approximately replicated.”