The fourth sample page (page 1, page 2, page 3) from my comics project on Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour (click it for full size). In this page, Oscar and Lillie Langtry bump into John Ruskin. Perhaps the most eminent of the Victorian art critics, Ruskin was one of Wilde's teachers at Oxford and, along with Walter Pater, is credited with moulding the mind of the young aesthete. Or, at the very least, with providing much of the material for Oscar's American lectures.
I wanted to show that at this early stage in his career, Oscar is not as forthright with his opinions as he will later become. Awed by the great man, he can't help but agree that Alma-Tadema's Sappho and Alcaeus is "awful". Wilde's real opinions on the work of Alma-Tadema, who specialised in pictures of domestic life in ancient Greece and Rome, are (like many of Wilde's opinions) contradictory. In 1877, four years before he attended the exhibition depicted in this page, he reviewed eight of Alma-Tadema's pictures positively. But in his confidential comments to the publisher of the review, he confided the artist's draughtsmanship was disgraceful.
Evidently by 1881 he had changed his tune. Now a graduate of Oxford with a double first in Classics, he was sought out by the artist for advice on the ancient Greek language. Alma-Tadema wanted some names and slogans to be carved on the marble seats in his painting of Sappho and Alcaeus, but wasn't confident enough to pen his own copy. Wilde obliged, writing "It is always a pleasure for me to work on any Greek subject, and a double pleasure to do so for anyone whose work mirrors so exquisitely and rightly, as yours does, that beautiful old Greek world." Quite.
Ruskin's rather more forthright opinion of Alma-Tadema's work is taken from his Oxford lectures. The earlier work that he describes here as "exactly like a microscopic view of a small detachment of black beetles in search of a dead rat" is A Pyrrhic Dance -- click here to see it and let me know if you agree with Ruskin!
Discover more about Oscar Wilde's American lecture tour, and my comic about it, at oscarwildecomics.com