The London broadsheets have been in a ferment for the past few days over a forthcoming exhibition at the V&A, The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860–1900 which opens on April 2nd. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones wrote a piece pointing out the French associations of the British Aesthetes in which he mentions the Hôtel d’Alsace at 13 Rue des Beaux-Arts, Paris, the place where Oscar Wilde spent his last few months in 1900 prior to expiring in room no. 16. By coincidence I’d been looking at my own photos of the hotel only the day before so here they are, little more than snapshots but they give an idea of the building at least.
The hotel is now merely L’Hôtel, and I had a couple of surprises when I went to find the place the last time I was in Paris. The first is that the Rue des Beaux-Arts is some distance away from any main thoroughfares, although this perhaps isn’t so surprising given Wilde’s straitened circumstances. The second was seeing a plaque to Jorge Luis Borges (see below) on the wall opposite the one for Oscar Wilde with its incorrect year of birth. Borges had a lifelong fascination with Wilde, the first piece he had published was a translation into Spanish of The Happy Prince (and The Modern Word has a short essay by Borges about Wilde). I knew that Borges had stayed in the hotel (there’s a famous photo of him standing in the atrium) but didn’t expect his patronage to be commemorated in this way; once again, Paris has a respect for writers that puts many other cities to shame. Wilde is celebrated with two plaques—there’s another beside the door which can be seen here—but what these pictures don’t show is the atrium itself, a small space in the centre of the building which gives the hotel a distinction Wilde might have appreciated even if he would have preferred to spend his final hours in one of the more luxurious establishments.