Oscar Wilde at Petit Palais

“They say that when good Americans die” Oscar Wilde once said “they go to Paris…” Graffiti scribbled on Wilde’s tombstone in Pere Lachaise cemetery says “Here lies the greatest man who ever lived.” Maybe not the greatest as some of his fans think, but Wilde certainly was among the most clever. His aphorisms still bring a smile. For example about life he philosophized: “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” And about art he said”Paradoxically though it may seem, it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Now over a century after his death in Paris (1900) the Petit Palais is hosting an exhibition in homage to this legendary Irish writer whose best-known works include “The Picture of Dorian Gray” “The Canterville Ghost,” “The Importance of Being Ernest.” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” The exhibition retraces the life and work of this ardent francophile and  French speaker through more than 200 items including photographs, drawings, caricatures, personal effects and paintings. He wrote the play Salomé originally in French, with Sarah Bernhardt in mind for the title role.

Wilde came frequently to Paris between 1883 and 1894 and counted among his writer friends André Gide, Pierre Louÿs, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine. After serving a prison sentence in Britain’s Reading Gaol Prison for “gross indecency with men” he was exiled to Paris where he died at the age of 46 in poverty.  His last words were reputedly: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.”

Oscar Wilde, Insolence Incarnate, to January 15, 2017, Petit Palais.