This week: On Oscar Wilde, Spanish sculpture, Alexander Pope & more.
Oscar Wilde: A Life by Matthew Sturgis (Knopf): The fin-de-siècle illustrator Aubrey Bearsley once drew a caricature of Oscar Wilde sitting at his desk, surrounded by books. The titles arrayed before the Irish dandy are meant to poke fun—French Verbs at a Glance for the author of Salomé, as well as a hulking tome titled Family Bible—but the volumes also remind us that the turn-of-the-century public saw him as, first and foremost, a man of letters. For readers today, a new biography of Wilde by Matthew Sturgis (who penned a study of Beardsley some twenty years ago) will freshen up the mental portrait of the man who wrote Dorian Gray. —RE
“Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh” at the Hispanic Society Museum & Library (through January 9, 2022): The Hispanic Society is our treasure house of Spanish art and literature at 155th Street and Broadway. No other collection in the New World, and even perhaps the Old, can rival certain strengths of its holdings. Now through January, we have a chance to consider one of these strengths through its collection of polychrome Renaissance and Baroque sculpture. While the Society’s permanent galleries are undergoing renovations, “Gilded Figures: Wood and Clay Made Flesh” gathers the highlights of the Society’s painted sculpture in a special exhibition organized by Patrick Lenaghan, the head curator of prints, photographs, and sculpture at the institution. While polychromy can be found throughout European art, it was the Spanish who took the form to its living, breathing conclusions—merging the crafts of woodworking and clay sculpting with the skill of painting. The verisimilitude may have gone against the classical ideal, but the results gave Spanish devotional sculpture a life of its own. Now more than twenty of these sculptures, many of them gathered by Archer Huntington, the Society’s founder, but also supplemented by acquisitions made over the past three decades, are brought together in the institution’s new east-wing special-exhibition gallery. —JP
The Poet and the Publisher: The Case of Alexander Pope, Esq., of Twickenham versus Edmund Curll, Bookseller in Grub Street, by Pat Rogers (Reaktion): Lytton Strachey commented that Alexander Pope’s verses, “when they were written, resemble nothing so much as spoonfuls of boiling oil, ladled out by a fiendish monkey at an upstairs window upon such passers-by whom the wretch had a grudge against.” One of these targets was the unscrupulous Edmund Curll, a bookseller for whom Pope reserved a special animus, going so far as to spike Curll’s beverage at a tavern. Curll and Pope’s long-running feud is the subject of a new book by the great historian of eighteenth-century literature Pat Rogers, a contributor to The New Criterion. —BR
“Program 5,” Fall for Dance Festival at New York City Center (October 23–24): New York City Center, the Neo-Moorish theater near Carnegie Hall, is hosting its annual Fall for Dance Festival. The fifth program, to be performed next weekend, looks the most promising: Roman Mejia, who just last week was promoted to soloist at the New York City Ballet, will be dancing in Alexei Ratmansky’s Fandango, an athletic solo choreographed originally for Wendy Whelan (now the Associate Artistic Director of NYCB) in 2010. Ratmansky adapted the work, set to a movement from a guitar quintet by Luigi Boccherini, for a male dancer by adding more jumps and sauts de basques, a type of traveling turn. Tiler Peck and Herman Cornejo, the principals of NYCB and American Ballet Theatre respectively, will dance in the New York premiere of Justin Peck’s Bloom, while the tap dancer and choreographer Ayodele Casel will unveil her newest work, Where We Dwell, on the City Center mainstage. —JC
From the archive:
“C’est moi!” by Jeffrey Meyers (June 2006). On Artists’ Self-Portraits by Omar Calabrese, translated by Marguerite Shore.
“Is America in irreversible decline?” Conrad Black delivers the third annual Circle Lecture with an introduction by Roger Kimball.
“Puccini in the world,” by Jay Nordlinger. On a performance of Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera.