Banksy has offered to buy Reading prison, where Oscar Wilde was once imprisoned, by selling a stencil that he used in a piece honoring the Victorian author, according to the Guardian. The artist plans to convert the prison into an arts center.
Already famous for The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde was imprisoned in Reading Gaol for two years beginning in 1895 for “gross indecency” resulting from having relationships with men. It was during his hard-labor sentence that Wilde wrote De Profundis, a posthumously published letter to his lover which mapped out the ill-fated course of their relationship and Wilde’s own ruminations on his life and career.
Once he was released from prison he left for France and never returned to the U.K. He wrote the poem, “The Ballad of the Reading Gaol,” based on his witnessing the hanging of a murderer while he was imprisoned.
“[Wilde was] the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic,” Banksy told the Guardian. “Converting the place that destroyed him into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it.”
Reading prison was put on the market in 2019, despite widespread pushback. In March, Banksy tagged the building with a new work depicting a writer (a nod to Wilde) using a tied up bed sheet to escape from the prison while carrying a typewriter. The sellers have listed the prison for £10 million ($13 million).
Banksy has promised to raise the asking price by selling the stencil that he used to create his artwork of the escaping writer, should the Reading prison accept this bid. Between his offer to bring in $13 million and additional money raised by the Reading Borough Council to save the historic landmark, Bansky and the Council should have the necessary funds to meet the asking price, but it is still unclear whether or not the sellers will accept the unorthodox offer.
Toby Davies, the artistic director for Rabble theatre in Reading, told the BBC, “Banksy is offering an incredible amount of money, which will go directly to the MoJ for the public benefit. Banksy’s offer is phenomenal and if the MoJ turn that down then I consider that a criminal act.”