Poe once wrote, ‘The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’ His ghostly yarn, “The Oval Portrait”, embodies this notion.
She was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter. He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his Art; she a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee; all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn; loving and cherishing all things; hating only the Art which was her rival; dreading only the pallet and brushes and other untoward instruments which deprived her of the countenance of her lover. It was thus a terrible thing for this lady to hear the painter speak of his desire to portray even his young bride.
–from ‘The Oval Portrait’ (1842)
The story is very short, but nonetheless encompasses several important Poe tropes in only about two pages: a gothic setting; a beautiful woman; Art and the Artist; Death; and how the innocent usually die first.
‘The Oval Portrait’s’ concept that a portrait can collect or reflect the physical or moral aspects of a living human certainly caught Oscar Wilde’s attention. It’s said that Wilde thought so highly of Poe’s tale, that it inspired his idea for The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The image is a daguerreotype of Poe taken in 1848, during the last year of his life–after the long and lingering death of his beautiful wife, Virginia.