Auctions | December 1, 2020

Major Exhibition of Wilde Manuscripts, First Editions & Ephemera Announced at Bonhams

Courtesy of Bonhams

The bill for flowers at Oscar Wilde’s funeral, from the Jeremy Mason Collection.

London — On 30 November 1900 in a rundown Paris hotel, the poet, dramatist, novelist, and society wit Oscar Wide died. Now, 120 years after his passing, Bonhams announces a major new exhibition dedicated to Wilde’s life and works to be staged at its London headquarters, 101 New Bond Street. Oscar Wilde: A Man for Our Times runs from 15-23 February 2021.

The exhibition features the collection of noted Wilde collector, bibliophile, and former dealer in Oriental antiques, Jeremy Mason, who has been collecting Wilde memorabilia for the last 55 years. The extensive collection of 500 books, files and boxes has been distilled to showcase the many facets of Wilde’s remarkable life and will present fascinating and rare highlights, including:

  • Portrait of Oscar Wilde by the famous New York photographer Sarony taken in 1882. Wilde’s flamboyant attire, went viral: his velvet coat, knee-breeches, silk stockings, and patent leather shoes had one Midwest journalist wondering whether the fashionable young men of Milwaukee would “fear that their calves are wanting in symmetry”.
  • Autograph letter signed to Ada Leverson, [February 1895]. Written to thank the critic Leverson – always known to Wilde as ‘The Sphinx’ – for her glowing review of the first night of The Importance of Being Earnest. “Dear Sphinx, You are more than all criticisms. I have merely to thank you again and again for your desire to sound in my honour a daffodil-shaped horn … Bosie sends sweet words, and so does our Scotch friend Ross.” By April Wilde was in prison awaiting trial.
  • The bill for flowers at Oscar Wilde’s funeral, made out to Robert Ross, amounting to 77 francs, submitted by Maison Helbig of 10 Boulevard Malesherbes, Paris, 2 December 1900.
  • Two delightful unpublished letters to a child, Beatrice Faudel-Phillips, in which Wilde warns that ‘People who break their engagements … eventually become so stout, that their waistcoats don’t fit them, and the Doctors don’t allow them to eat whipped cream, ices, or indeed sweet things of any description’ and describes himself as a “wall flower” who does not dance any more.

Jeremy Mason first entered the world of Wilde collecting when he purchased actor Ernest Thesiger’s first edition copy of The Importance of Being Earnest. As Jeremy himself explains: “The collection just grew from there and now contains books, letters and manuscripts from each period of Wilde’s life from childhood, school years, America, his fame as an author, the theatre ‘golden years’, and the tragedy and exile.”

“Most importantly the collection has been enhanced by the inclusion of evocative items of ephemera which have added colour to the Wilde story and were so important to me when deciding which other items to add.”

Bonhams Head of Fine Books and Manuscripts Matthew Haley said: “It’s a great privilege to be hosting this wonderfully exciting and rich collection. In the 120 years since his death, Wilde’s reputation has swung from moral degenerate to gay icon, but public interest in this complicated and talented man has never dimmed. This promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime show and the exhibition will be accompanied by a special catalogue, creating a permanent record of Jeremy Mason’s extraordinary collection.”