Oscar Wilde’s tomb | Peter Horree/Alamy | 14428
Wilde died in Paris in 1900, aged 46. His restored tomb in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery – the work of sculptor Jacob Epstein – will finally be unveiled this week, newly protected from his devotees who in recent years have been leaving lipstick kisses on it, damaging the tomb because the grease sinks into the stone.
“From a technical point of view, the tomb is close to being irreparably damaged. Each cleaning has rendered the stone more porous necessitating a yet more drastic cleaning,” says Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson.
The Irish government have paid for a radical cleaning and “de-greasing” of the tomb, and a glass barrier to surround it and prevent further damage.
Holland explained that when Wilde died he was bankrupt and his friends could offer him only a sixth-class burial at Bagneux, outside the city. His friend and literary executor, Robert Ross, managed over the next few years to annul Wilde’s bankruptcy and purchase a burial plot “in perpetuity” at Père Lachaise. Helen Carew anonymously offered £2,000 to erect a monument by the young Epstein. The commission, a flying naked angel inspired by the British Museum’s Assyrian figures, was unveiled in 1914, surviving intact until the early 1960s, when the angel was vandalised, its genitals hacked off and stolen.
The unveiling of the monument will take place on Wednesday, which is the anniversary of Wilde’s death. Holland hopes that the barrier will deter loving vandals. Designed to be unobtrusive and aesthetic, it could only discourage rather than be preventative and he says: “Some determined kissers will no doubt try to find ways of kissing the upper extremities.”
Well they do, don’t they.