Oscar Wilde, 1882. Carte de visite by Napoleon Sarony. Source unknown.
Lithograph of the Grand Hotel, c. 1870. New England Lithographic Company / Museum of the City of New York. 44.334
Grand Hotel, c. 1868. Courtesy of the New York Public Library, Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views.
In 1882, the Irish poet and dandy Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), not yet a playwright but making himself known for his dress style and quips, embarked on an expenses-paid tour of America. William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan had satirized Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement in their operetta Patience, but when it was to transfer to New York on Broadway, producer Richard D’Oyly Carte feared that New Yorkers would not get the jokes. Wilde was enticed to travel to America and give talks on art and his decorative philosophy, dressed as their Bunthorne character.
When he arrived, however, Wilde quickly turned the tour to his advantage, selling himself and not Gilbert and Sullivan. Wilde’s tour earned him fame, an extraordinary amount of press coverage, and a good deal of money. While in New York, he stayed for a few days at the Grand Hotel, and had a session with the photographer Napoleon Sarony at his studio on the west side of Union Square. The resulting, widely seen photographs greatly enhanced his image as an aesthete and artist.
According to a biography, Wilde also stayed at 47 Irving Place in 1882.
Architect or Builder: Henry Engelbert
Year Built: 1868
David M. Friedman, Wilde in America: Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2014).
Gale Harris and Jay Shockley, East 17th Street/Irving Place Historic District Designation Report (New York: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1998).
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