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Monday, November 30, 1998 Published at 12:11 GMT


London's Wilde tribute

By Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the Oscar Wilde statue project leader

Oscar Wilde was one of the greatest playwrights in the English language and, on the anniversary of his death, London sees its first public monument to his memory unveiled on the edge of theatreland.

The story behind this historic monument began in the 1980s and early 90s when some his fans remarked that there was no public memorial to him in the very city where he lived and his plays were most performed. One of those fans, the film-maker, painter and author Derek Jarman therefore suggested a statue.

After Derek died in 1994, a group of us from public life got together to form A Statue for Oscar Wilde committee to bring that about, and the unveiling of the memorial sees the successful end to our efforts.

[ image: Sir Jeremy Isaacs:
Sir Jeremy Isaacs: "This is a great day for London, theatreland, for Ireland and for Wilde's family"
Working with me on the committee were celebrated actors Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellan and poet Seamus Heaney.

We invited 12 artists to submit sketches and from those submissions, we chose the six we liked most. They went away and made models of their ideas and the one which impressed us the most was the portraitist Maggi Hambling.

Maggi has had a life-long fascination with Wilde and had often painted him before. For the memorial, she has created a witty and amusing sculpture and called it A Conversation with Oscar Wilde.

On a green granite sarcophagus, which serves as a bench on which the public sit, Oscar's head in bronze is seen rising from the tomb chatting away. He is smoking a cigarette. On the granite is inscribed this quotation from his play Lady Windermere's Fan: "We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars".

The funds for the statue were raised by public subscription. In fact, hundreds of people contributed small amounts and various foundations generously put up five figure sums.

I believe that the unveiling of this statue sees a great day for the theatre, for London, for Ireland, for Oscar Wilde's family and for all those people who admire both the man and his work.

I and all my colleagues who have worked on the project hope that Maggi Hambling's A Conversation with Oscar Wilde will give pleasure to London and all its vistors for many, many years to come.

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