Photographs of leading poets auction at Bonhams

A photograph of decadent Victorian poet and playwright Oscar Wilde brought £16,250 ($25,272) to Bonhams London yesterday (May 9).

The vintage portrait, among the best known images of Wilde, has been signed by the literary bon viveur "Oscar Wilde".

Oscar Wilde portrait sale
The portrait was offered from the Roy Davis collection of poetical and political manuscripts

Eccentric New York photographer Napoleon Sarony took 27 snaps of Wilde at the beginning of the playwright's career-enhancing tour of America in 1882.

Wilde famously quipped of the nation: "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between."

In preparation for his American sojourn, during which Wilde would give many lectures on aestheticism, the sartorially-exuberant writer bought a number of razzy outfits, including the heavy, fur-lined coat that can be seen in this photograph.

Britain's one-time Poet Laureate John Betjeman refers to Wilde's enthusiasm for astrakham coats - which use the tightly curled fleece of an unborn, or newborn lamb - in his poem The Death of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel: "One astrakhan coat is at Willie's / Another one's at the Savoy".

The luxurious coats communicate something of Wilde's profligate proclivities: "Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination," he once remarked.

The sale demonstrates the value of signed vintage photographs; we have many of which in stock. Check out this Harry Houdini autographed head shot, for example.

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