Napoleon Sarony photographed Oscar Wilde much before the latter’s ascension to fame. One of his photographs of Oscar Wilde, taken in 1882, became the centre of a lawsuit two years later. Sarony, claiming a copyright infringement, won the case and earned $610 as compensation in the process.
Napoleon Sarony (1821 – 1896) was one of the most celebrated photographers of 19th century. He was born in Quebec but relocated to New York when he was fifteen. From behind the camera lenses he captured everlasting images of many a famous faces of the day. He photographed Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) many times during his career. Memorable portraits of Nikola Tesla, Walt Whitman, Winslow Homer and Wendell Phillips still stare back from the pages of Sarony’s illustrious albums.
Sarony paid a hefty $1500 to famous actress Sarah Bernhardt so that he can capture the beauty of her ethereal face and delicate features on the photographic plates. He was also a talented lithographer, a craft he learned from his father who was a lithographer by profession. Despite his mastery, Napoleon Sarony shared a love hate relationship with the art of photography. In an interview with Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, January 1893, he commented,
I burn, I ache, I die, for something that is truly art. All my art in the photograph, I value as nothing. I want to make pictures out of myself, to group a thousand shapes that crowd my imagination. This relieves me, the other oppresses me …