House Beautiful: Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Interior
Published in the centenary year of Oscar Wilde's death, The House Beautiful celebrates Wilde's association with the Aesthetic Movement, which flourished in Britain and America in the late 19th-century and which Wilde came to personify. Examining the origins and development of the Aesthetic Movement and its influence on the decorative arts, Charlotte Gere traces the people with whom Wilde associated, the artists, architects and designers he admired, and the houses and interiors he was influenced by. His theories on art and interior decoration, which drew heavily on John Ruskin, Walter Pater and William Morris, were disseminated not only in the drawing rooms of the socially elite but also through his lecture tours in America and the United Kingdom. On his marriage to Constance in 1884, Wilde took a house in Tite Street, Chelsea, and commissioned the architect Edward Godwin to design the interiors. Detailed descriptions survive to provide a fascinating insight into Wilde's highly-developed sense of the 'house beautiful'. For the ordinary middle-class householder the elements of the 'artistic interior' were explained through numerous books and magazines giving detailed instructions on decoration, the use of colour and pattern, the choice of furniture and the creation of harmony in the home. Lesley Hoskins, in the final chapter, examines the popular expression of the Aesthetic Movement, drawing on these published sources as well as contemporary photographs and furniture catalogues. For Wilde, the house beautiful was short-lived. In spite of achieving acclaim and wealth as a playwright he was ruined by his notorious affair with Lord Alfred Douglas and the trials brought by Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, which left him bankrupt, imprisoned and ultimately exiled. He never lost his wit, though, as shown by his comment as he lay dying in a Paris hotel, 'My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has to go.' The House Beautiful offers a comprehensive account of the aesthetic interior across a wide spectrum of late-19th-century society, illustrated with a selection of the most evocative images, some of which are published here for the first time, of a truly decorative style.