A Death By A Thousand Kisses, The Grave Of Oscar Wilde is Saved

Oscar Wilde : Image Source Wiki Commons

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For over 100 year his grave has been a Mecca for admirers of the Irish playwright and author who wish to honor and remember this remarkable man.

However these devotees who have smothered Oscar Wilde’s grave with kisses have contributed to its near destruction.  Action by both the Irish and French authorities will ensure that fans will no longer be able to get so close to the stone memorial as lipstick marks are eroding it.

Oscar Wilde's Grave : Wiki Commons

It’s been a long standing tradition for fans especially women have visit the memorial to Wilde in Paris’s largest cemetery Pére Lachaise to pay their respects

But an expression of love for the unconventional playwright has resulted over in thousands of red lipstick kisses and graffiti messages covering the bottom half of the tomb.  The memorial, a sculpture of a modernist angel designed by Sir Jacob Epstein, is covered with graffiti and parts of the stone have been knocked off.  Kissing the grave of the creator of The Importance of Being Earnest has become a cult pastime and the tomb is a regular stop-off for tourists on the trail around the French capital.

However this damage will now be cleaned and restored thanks to donations from the Irish authorities.

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Mr Hayes an Irish government minster visited Père Lachaise cemetery yesterday to confirm that the Office of Public Works would provide funding for the restoration of Oscar Wilde’s grave.. The restoration project will involve cleaning the grave and surrounding it with glass joined by four bronze pillars.

The Irish State was approached about the restoration by the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris and Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson. Sheila
Pratschke, the director of the centre, said the project team wanted it to be as simple and as unobtrusive as possible.

“It has been Mr Holland’s dream to have it cleaned, restored and respected,” Ms Pratschke said. “I think it will look magnificent when it’s cleaned.” Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland had repeatedly appealed to the public to leave the grave alone, but to no avail. He said there was a £7,700 fine for anyone caught defacing the tomb but recognised culprits were largely tourists who left the country before police were able to track them down.  He said grease in lipstick absorbs into the stone and every time it is cleaned more stone is eroded.

He said: ‘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.’

The lipstick on the grave stone of Wilde

Mr Hayes called the State’s involvement a small but very important gesture. “We have a responsibility to the great Irish writers, no matter where they are in the world, and we have a responsibility to their memory.”

The public will no longer be able to get so close when the glass barrier is erected.  It’s planned that the finish work will be completed on Wednesday on the anniversary of Wilde’s death

Oxford-educated Wilde wrote a number of critically acclaimed plays including The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan, as well as A Woman of No Importance and an Ideal Husband.

Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on 30 November 1900.  Wilde was initially buried in the Cimetière de Bagneux outside Paris.  His original burial was a pauper’s paid for by one by his friends as he died bankrupt following a spell in prison after his homosexuality was revealed. However in 1909 his remains were disinterred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city paid for friend Robert Ross

His tomb was designed by Sir Jacob Epsteincommissioned by Ross and cost over £2000 but was paid for by another friend Helen Carew.  Ross asked for a small compartment to be made for his own ashes which were duly transferred in 1950.

The modernist angel which is the focal point on the stone is depicted as a relief on the tomb was originally complete with male genitalia which have since been vandalised; their current whereabouts are unknown. In 2000, Leon Johnson, a multimedia artist, installed a silver prosthesis to replace them.

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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