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Lilies and sunflowers were emblems of the alternative art movements of the mid to late nineteenth century. These flowers often featured in the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, and they were taken up later in the century by the aesthetes or decadents.
Wilde soon established himself as the most famous or the most notorious of the aesthetes. He made lilies and sunflowers a part of his public persona, appearing in public wearing or holding them. Caricatures often made fun of his identification with the flowers, and legend sees him as the object of W. S. Gilbert's jibe in the opera, Patience:
Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank as an apostle in the high aesthetic band,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand.
Later in his career, Wilde adopted a different bloom, the green carnation. The Star reported seeing him at an opening night with “a suite of young gentlemen all wearing the vivid dyed carnation which has superseded the lily and the sunflower.” Robert Hichens wrote a novel satirising the aesthetes, The Green Carnation. The central character, Esmé Amarinth, is a thinly disguised version of Wilde.
Nowadays there are numerous varieties of green carnation. In Wilde's day, a green carnation was produced by spraying a white carnation with dye.
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