A handwritten letter by Oscar Wilde, the key to the infamous jail where he was incarcerated and more than 100 original lithographs connected with the Irish playwright will go on display for the first time in Malta this weekend.
This never-seen-before treasure trove collected over the years by Francis Spiteri Paris, founder of Perry Estate Agents Malta, will see the light of day thanks to the Storm Petrel Foundation, a new non-profit voluntary organisation specifically set up to showcase prized items of popular culture.
This exhibition, Vanities: Collecting Oscar Wilde, comes as Tate Britain is creating a buzz over its acquisition of the door from Reading Gaol, where Wilde was imprisoned for gross indecency, which will go on display in April.
"There are so many unique collections in Malta that remain hidden and we felt these need a special home where the public can view and appreciate these wonderful treasures," Bernie Mizzi, founding member of the Storm Petrel Foundation, said.
The foundation was set up in 2013 and after carrying out a painstaking renovation to transform a traditional Maltese townhouse — located at 79, Triq San Anton, Attard — into a suitable exhibition space, the Storm Petrel Foundation is finally opening its doors on Saturday.
Named after the bird that weathers the storm, the foundation is intended to fill a void in Malta and provide space for popular culture collections, featuring prints, comics or posters, among other items.
A rare opportunity for all those fascinated by the playwright to view historically significant memorabilia
Facilities at the house mean that items can be curated and preserved to the highest professional standards, making it possible for members of the foundation, researchers and the public to view the exhibits and browse detailed catalogue entries about each subject.
Spiteri Paris’s Oscar Wilde collection is the foundation's first big exhibition and it is a rare opportunity for all those fascinated by the playwright of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest to view historically significant memorabilia.
The jewel in this collection is a handwritten letter, which Wilde had sent to the Pall Mall Gazette on October 2, 1894, denying reports that he was the anonymous author of the highly controversial book The Green Carnation.
The lead characters bore distinct similarities to the Dublin-born writer and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie.
The book, a first edition of which also features in this Maltese collection, formed part of the evidence against the writer during his prosecution for indecency. Even though it later transpired that The Green Carnation was written by Robert Hichens, Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labour from 1895 to 1897.
Spiteri Paris recently also acquired the key to Wilde's cell at Reading Gaol, an acquisition coveted by collectors. In the UK, the door from Reading Gaol, where Wilde was incarcerated, is to go on display for the first time as part of Tate Britain’s Queer British Art Show in April.
However, Spiteri Paris’s pride and joy in this collection is more than 120 original lithographs of individuals linked to Wilde that have been meticulously amassed over the years, and which paint an intriguing picture of the acclaimed author, his times, and his circles.
From revered Victorian Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the images feature prominent individuals connected with the writer spanning a period of more than 30 years.
“My biggest pleasure was connecting each individual with Oscar Wilde — there are some great characters,” Spiteri Paris said.
His collection is so unique that when English comedian and actor Stephen Fry — cast as Wilde in his biopic — was in Malta he asked to visit Spiteri Paris and was enthralled by what he saw.
“I think that is the closest I’ll ever get to Wilde,” Spiteri Paris said of meeting the actor.
The exhibition will run until May. The Storm Petrel Foundation is located 79, Triq San Anton, Attard. For enquiries on individual, group, guided visits or events, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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