It Looks Like Bansky Has Struck the Wall of England’s Reading Prison, Which Once Detained Oscar Wilde, in His Latest Mural

The mural appears to be a nod to Wilde's stay at the prison during the late 19th century.

Images from Steve Lazarides, Banksy Captured courtesy of Lazarinc.

It appears that Banksy has struck again, this time painting the brick wall of the former Reading Prison in Berkshire, England, where Oscar Wilde was jailed for two years over his “indecent” affair with Lord Alfred Douglas.

In the new mural, a prisoner in striped garb is seen mid-escape, dangling from a rope made of knotted sheets as he repels down the wall with a typewriter. Although the anonymous street artist has yet to claim the work as his own (which he does only on Instagram or his official website), curator Vince John told the BBC, “It appears to be a new Banksy at Reading jail, or should I say ‘gaol,'” as the prison was formerly known. “I believe the piece is in reference to Oscar Wilde.”

The Irish poet wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol about his stay there, during which time a 30-year-old man named Charles Thomas Wooldridge was hanged for murder. The poem was published under the name C.3.3., a reference to cell block C, landing 3, cell 3, where Wilde stayed from 1895 to 1897.

John, who runs Bristol’s 1loveart gallery, described the work as “both humorous and politically poignant.”

Two police officers investigate the newly painted mural. Screenshot courtesy of the artist.

Two police officers investigate the newly painted mural. Screenshot courtesy of the artist.

The new mural could help spur a campaign to transform the site, which has sat empty since its closure in 2014, into an arts complex, a move that has support from Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh.

The prison was put up for sale in 2019 and, after a deal fell through, the council was given more time to find investment for the project.

Artistic director of Reading’s Rabble Theater, Toby Davies, was thrilled at the prospect that the street artist had used the prison as his canvas. “In the right hands, this gaol will evolve Reading into an internationally recognized historical and cultural destination,” he told the BBC. “Dare I say it, it looks like Banksy agrees.”

Banksy has been busy over the past year, creating multiple murals that reflect on the pandemic, including his most recent work, featuring an elderly woman mid-sneeze.


UPDATE: March 5, 2021

Banksy confirmed that he had in fact painted the Reading Prison mural, posting a new video to his Instagram account, where he usually claims authorship. The video opens on a picturesque mountain scene with twinkling music to reveal Bob Ross, the beloved painting instructor, giving a lesson. As he speaks, the video cuts to a hooded man spray painting the prison escape, as Ross’s voice continues in the background so that it appears Ross is commenting on Banksy’s work. The spoofed video has already racked up four million views, watch it in full, below.

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