24 May 2017 | 12.2 °C

Is The Oscar Wilde Memorial A Bench?

By Laura Reynolds Last edited 6 months ago
Is The Oscar Wilde Memorial A Bench?
Photo: kenjonbro

In 2014, David, an American visitor in London, and his wife, asked us whether the Oscar Wilde sculpture, A Conversation With Oscar Wilde, located on Adelaide Street near Charing Cross, is a bench to be sat on, or a sculpture to be admired from a distance.

Taking it to be a bench, they sat down "until some random dude started yelling at us. He screamed, 'This is a sculpture to a great man and not a bench! Get the hell off!'", leaving David wondering whether he had made an 'American faux pas'.

As David points out, the sculpture in question is the size of a bench, the height of a bench, the style of a bench, and, well, looks like a bench (or a coffin). The very shape of the sculpture, with sloped sides and a flat centre, invites you to sit down. Furthermore, the title of the piece, A Conversation With Oscar Wilde, has been cited by many as further incitement to take a pew and engage in chit chat with the stone head of the deceased playwright.

But what does the artist herself have to say? Maggi Hambling was picked from 12 artists who had each submitted Wilde memorial ideas. On the unveiling of the structure in 1998, she said

"The idea is that he is rising, talking, laughing, smoking from this sarcophagus and the passerby, should he or she choose to, can sit on the sarcophagus and have a conversation with him."

So, to the person who chased David and his wife away; your respect for, and protection of, A Conversation With Oscar Wilde, is admirable. But you're wrong. It's a bench.

A Conversation With Oscar Wilde featured in our gallery of London's best literary statues.

Last Updated 01 November 2016

Jimmy W

I can understand the guy who told them to get off. I feel the same way when walking past the Horse Guards Parade and seeing children swinging off the side of the war memorial there. However I think it is perhaps a bit extreme telling someone to get off, of what is clearly a bench.

Simon M

I really don't like it. Never thought of sitting on it either. Not as bad as the Churchill/FDR bench on Bond Street though

Poozli

I am saddened every time I pass a dry water fountain on a London street. They were clearly left by Victorian benefactors. Why are they not kept running to stop tourists buying and disposing of plastic bottles ?

HHGeek

It's actually quite comfortable. I just never know which side to sit.

Hobart Calling

It looks a little similar to a Victorian invention to deal with 'her indoors'...a snippet on the device follows:

The 'wife tamer' was invented by publican Harry Tap in 1862 as a way of dealing with his nagging wife. He made six and one of them was donated to
Keighley's Cliffe Castle Museum in 1937. It is now its most popular exhibit. Its a cross between a coffin and a cradle with just the womens upper torso and head poking out at one end...

The inscription down the side reads: 'Hen Pecked Club's Peace Box No. 6, Patent Cure for a Cross Wife.'

2karmanot

If it had an etching of Lord Alfred Douglas I would definitely sit.

Chandramohan Naidu

It is Oscar Wilde he wont mind

Neil Evans

You probably can sit on it – but bearing in mind how many times you see people pissing on it late at night I'm not sure I'd want to touch it.