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The Art

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Oh, Beautiful World! (2020)

Eleanor Lakelin

Horse chestnut burr wood

Reading Museum

© Eleanor Lakelin





Horse chestnut wood

Physical Object Description:

Horse Chestnut trees, which stood outside the original Reading Gaol during Oscar Wilde’s incarceration (EL064).


131 x 47 x 47 cm


Commissioned and presented by the Contemporary Art Society through the Rapid Research Fund, 2020

Ownership history:

Commissioned from the Contemporary Art Society through the Rapid Research Fund, 2020; presented to Reading Museum & Town Hall, 2020


Reading Museum
Eleanor Lakelin is a conceptual wood sculptor who creates artwork made from trees grown in Britain. She is motivated by the possibilities revealed by the organic chaos within the material and the many textures and layers within. The trees Lakelin uses have been felled from decay and the wood enables Lakelin to explore the dynamics of time, growth, life and death.

Her passion for horse chestnut wood led her to engage in a dialogue with the curator at Reading Museum about a commission to commemorate the legendary poet Oscar Wilde. The horse chestnut trees were overlooking Reading Gaol when Wilde was incarcerated in 1895 but were felled in 2020 due to disease. Oh Beautiful World! is a commission to create a work that will serve the community and preserve this history.

In the making process of Oh Beautiful World!, Lakelin manipulated the material to reveal the naturally occurring textures within the grain. This unique element of disruption can be seen in many of her works, and she uses it to guide her outcome. In this case, the partially sanded and smoothed surface represents the beauty of classical vessels, juxtaposed with the exposed burr to reveal the coexistence of beauty, sorrow, health and sickness. Oh, Beautiful World! is an anthropomorphic artwork that confronts the fragility of life, pertinent to Oscar Wilde, but also facilitates discussion and reflection of nature, beauty and time.

In an effort to preserve its legacy, artists and LGBTQ+ public figures like actor Stephen Fry and writer Julian Barnes campaigned to convert Reading Gaol into an Arts & Heritage Centre. Although the prison has since been sold to a developer, Reading Museum intends to place a work in the collection that resonates with the local community and the shared history of the area. Lakelin’s artwork will join a number of Oscar Wilde-related artworks in the Reading Museum collections, and will also form a vital part of an environmental installation. Oh, Beautiful World! commemorates the legacy of Oscar Wilde, but also offers a glimpse into the myriad ways that the community will navigate the end to their isolation after a series of lockdowns.

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