Incorporating five beautifully colourful and exotic rock types from three different continents, the sculpture of Oscar Wilde in Dublin’s Merrion Square is truly a geological wonder.
The city of Dublin sports innumerable statues and sculptures of its famous former residents but most, quite literally, pale in comparison to the striking, multi-coloured sculpture of its beloved son Oscar Wilde. Since its unveiling in 1997, the work of art, commissioned by Guinness Ireland Group and executed by Danny Osborne, has earned its place as a regular stop on Dublin’s tourist trail. But not many people, geologists included, appreciate the true beauty of the work.
Walking up to the statue for the first time I was immediately struck by the shimmer of Wilde’s trousers and on closer inspection I found them to contain huge crystals of a mineral called feldspar up to a few centimetres across. My face right up against the statue I was then attracted to Wilde’s lurid smoking jacket. The materials were clearly natural yet they seemed to flow so fluidly. I was reminded of the Ancient Greek sculpture of Nike adjusting her Sandal – a marble relief from the Temple of Athena Nike at the Acropolis, Athens (410-405 BC), in which the sculptor makes solid marble appear to flow like fabric and hang almost weightlessly.
My interest ignited, a quick Google search later I came across a fascinating review of the sculpture and its geologically aspects by Prof Chris Stillman who spent forty years in College’s Geology Department. I soon learned of the extraordinary rock types used by Osborne to produce Wilde on his perch. The mesmerizing trousers worn by Wilde are composed larvikite – a coarse-grained igneous rock often known as Blue Pearl Granite due to its striking blue iridescence. The larvikite perfectly mimics a coarse tweed fabric and the effort of shipping it from the Oslo Fjord in Norway, is easily justified.
“The vivid colours, straight from the natural world, capture Wilde’s flamboyant character. One can easily imagine Wilde, adorned by his unapologetic smoking jacket, shimmering trousers, and cheeky smile, flicking his head towards a US Customs Control officer to offer: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”
Wilde’s brash smoking jacket is a combination of green nephrite jade from the extreme north of British Columbia, close to the Yukon, Canada, and pink thulite from Western Norway that composes the collar and cuffs. The Canadian jade is from a zone of contact metamorphism where relatively rare ultramafic magma intruded the local country rock, while the Norwegian thulite was mined from veins in metamorphosed shales and sandstones.
Wilde’s black shoes and socks may take a back seat to their chromatic siblings but they are no less exotic. The black Indian granite, known as charnockite, is from southern India and contains a distinctive pyroxene mineral known as hypersthene.
Ireland too contributes a piece of its geology to the jigsaw. The huge rock on which the sculptor has perched Wilde is a 35 tonne boulder of quartz transported from the Wicklow Mountains where it had weathered out of a vein in the Leinster Granite. Osborne, who found the boulder himself, must be congratulated on placing Wilde so naturally. In the words of Wilde himself, “being natural is simply a pose,” but this reclining pose, as the subject faces his childhood home on Merrion Square, is a true demonstration of a master artist at work.
To complete the piece, Osborne employed the bare minimum of man-made materials. Wilde’s shoes are finished with delicate bronze laces while the head (modelled on that on Wilde’s living grandson Merlin Holland) and hands were original composed of porcelain. However, the head fell into disrepair and was replaced by a more durable jade one in 2009.
In addition to the beautiful use of wonderful natural materials, I love the cleverness of the sculpture. The vivid colours, straight from the natural world, capture Wilde’s flamboyant character so perfectly. One can easily imagine Wilde, adorned by his unapologetic smoking jacket, shimmering trousers, and cheeky smile, flicking his head towards a US Customs Control officer to offer: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” He struts on, head held high, his heavily polished, charnockite-granite-black shoes clicking loudly as he exits.