Oscar Wilde

James McNeill Whistler: The owl and the cabinet

London: The author, 1882

Sp Coll Whistler 201

This volume was previously owned by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), whose literary output included short stories, plays and poems that still appeal to millions worldwide.

He was born on October 16, 1854 and excelled at school and at university in Dublin and Oxford. After university he moved to London where, in 1884, he married Constance Lloyd, the daughter of a prominent barrister. They had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan and to support his family, Oscar took a job revitalizing the Woman's World magazine, where he worked from 1887-1889.

In summer 1891 he met Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, the third son of the Marquis of Queensberry, who was an undergraduate at Oxford. They became lovers and remained together until Wilde was arrested and convicted of "gross indecency" and sentenced to two years hard labour. Constance took the children to Switzerland and changed their names to "Holland".

After his release, Oscar wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a response to his suffering in prison. He was briefly re-united with Bosie, but spent most of the last three years of his life travelling in Europe, unable to rekindle his creativity. He died of meningitis on November 30, 1900. A celebrity in his own lifetime, Oscar's unconventional talent and acerbic wit continues to enthral audiences and readers today.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was an American born artist who spent much of his life based in Britain. He had a considerable influence on the art world and the culture of his time and numbered amongst his friends many artists and literary figures of the day, including Oscar Wilde, with whom he indulged in witty exchanges: indeed, Wilde often repeated in public many witticisms which originated with Whistler.

According to a sale note on the front flyleaf, this volume was bought by William Rothenstein at Oscar Wilde's sale following his imprisonment. It is Whistler's account of events concerning his dispute with Sydney Morse over a Chinese "pagoda" cabinet which Morse had purchased from him. Morse claimed that C.A. Howell, the agent in the sale, pawned the "headpiece" of the cabinet on the pretext that it had been sent for repair. The cabinet is now held at Leighton House Museum in London. This volume was later in the possession of the artist Sir William Rothenstein, who had received encouragement from Whistler early in his career. His bookplate is on the front pastedown.

Special Collections now holds the world's largest collection of Whistler's papers and correspondence.

Oscar Wilde: Bookplate in Whistler, J.M. : The Owl and the Cabinet
Bookplate of Sir William Rothenstein in J.M. Whistler's The Owl and the Cabinet.

Go to the next book in the exhibition, previously owned by: Alexander Graham Bell.