The Picture of Dorian Gray

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The Picture Symbol Icon
The painting itself is an overarching, ever-present symbol in The Picture of Dorian Gray, not just in the text but to nearly all of its characters. Though physically it is nothing more than a two-dimensional object, it becomes the main antagonist of their lives and has such far-reaching and powerful influences that it seems almost to be more alive than Dorian himself. It represents beauty, mortality, time, and art, all the major themes of the book, and its degradation literally presents to us the dangers inherent in these ideas.

The Picture Quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray

The The Picture of Dorian Gray quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Picture. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray published in 2003.
The Preface Quotes

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

The preface takes the form of a short introduction in which the omniscient narrator reveals the main themes of the novel. The nature and purpose of art is one of the novel's main themes, and here the narrator argues that art should "conceal the artist." This is a key principle of the Aesthetic movement, and suggests that the role of art is not to play a social role in a historical moment, but to simply be appreciated for its own sake. Such a view leads to the glorification of art as something beyond and superior to human society. It also suggests that it is wrong for people themselves become too deeply implicated in their artistic creations, as Basil does when he creates the perfect portrait of Dorian because of his own emotions and attachments. 

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All art is quite useless

Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The notion that art is "useless" is another major proposition of the Aesthetic movement. Uselessness does not mean that art shouldn't exist or have a role in society, but rather that it should not have a function beyond being seen and enjoyed. Its value is merely aesthetic. Of course, the painting of Dorian in the novel does come to have a use––Dorian uses it to avoid his own mortality. Therefore, when read in the broader context of the novel, this quote can be seen as a warning about what happens when we demand that art take on a function beyond its aesthetic role. 

Chapter 1 Quotes

“An artist should create beautiful things but should put nothing of his own life into them”

Related Characters: Basil Hallward (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

Basil has explained to Lord Henry that he does not want to exhibit his painting of Dorian because there is too much of himself in it. Lord Henry responds that poets often put themselves into their work, for example when they suffer heartbreak and use the experience as inspiration for their poetry. Basil rejects this, adamantly maintaining the view that an artist should not put "his own life" into his work. This directly echoes the statement in the preface that "to reveal art and conceal the artist is art's aim." Again, this principle is a central tenet of Aestheticism, a movement to which both Basil and Oscar Wilde himself subscribed. 

Chapter 2 Quotes

“If it were only the other way! If it were I who was always young, and the picture that was to grow old!”

Related Characters: Dorian Gray (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Having been warned by Lord Henry that his youthful looks will fade, and having seen the supernaturally beautiful portrait that Basil has now finished, Dorian becomes overwhelmed by the wish to stay young forever. This is a climactic moment in the narrative in which Dorian drastically alters his own fate. His sudden desperation and subsequent harsh words to Basil do not fit the innocent, charming image of Dorian we have seen so far; Wilde uses this dramatic transformation to show that the threat of mortality can have an extreme effect on people. 

This passage also highlights the exaggerated role of art in the world of the novel. Dorian is so astonished by the portrait of himself that he becomes jealous of it and the fact that it will remain the same while he himself ages and grows less attractive. While this might seem like a strange reaction, it demonstrates the importance of art, surfaces, and appearance to Dorian and the other characters. As the novel will show, this is a dangerous view, as investing too much in appearances leads to the corruption of one's personality. 

Chapter 9 Quotes

“One day, a fatal day I sometimes think, I determined to paint a wonderful portrait of you as you actually are, not in the costume of dead ages, but in your own dress and in your on time.”

Related Characters: Basil Hallward (speaker), Dorian Gray
Related Symbols: The Picture
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:
Dorian has confused Basil by vehemently refusing to let him see the portrait; to distract Basil from this suspicious behavior, Dorian has asked why he plans to show the painting now after always refusing to do so before, offering that they "share" their secrets. Basil admits that at first he tried painting Dorian in various historical settings (for example, as a character from Greek mythology), but that on a "fatal" day he decided to simply paint Dorian as he was in his present-day context. This dramatic language is typical of the novel, especially when the characters discuss art––yet in this instance Basil is right to use the word "fatal," as the portrait has indirectly already caused one death (Sybil's) and will come to cause others. 
Chapter 14 Quotes

What was that loathsome red dew that gleamed, wet and glistening, on one of the hands, as though the canvas had sweated blood?

Related Characters: Dorian Gray
Related Symbols: White and Red, The Picture
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

Having stabbed Basil to death in the room where the portrait sits, Dorian begs his former friend Alan Campbell to assist him with disposing of Basil's body. As Dorian opens the door, he is less horrified by the sight of Basil's corpse than by the change the portrait has undergone as a result of the murder: the image of Dorian now has lifelike blood on its hands. Once again, blood is closely linked to the symbol of redness, a visual manifestation of Dorian's sins. The description of the blood in this passage is significant for its grotesque vividness. The narrator's statement that the canvas "sweated blood" implies that the painting has literally become alive; if this is true, it suggests that Dorian might not be fully alive himself. 

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The Picture Symbol Timeline in The Picture of Dorian Gray

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Picture appears in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
...Basil Hallward’s house. Lord Henry Wotton and Basil are together in the studio, considering the portrait that Basil has been working on, of a slim, handsome youth. Henry praises it very... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Basil says he has put too much of himself into the painting to exhibit it. Lord Henry, not understanding, thinks that Basil is ridiculous for being vain,... (full context)
Chapter 2
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
...lips parted in curiosity for these new ideas, Dorian is in perfect form for Basil’s painting. Basil lets them go into the garden for air and excitedly carries on painting, sure... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
...interested in faithfulness and lasting, so they agree to have a capricious friendship. Basil is painting with a great passion. When he is finished, Henry congratulates him. It is certainly the... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
...ways, Basil getting increasingly upset until he grabs a knife and takes it to the painting. Dorian cries out. He now feels so much a part of the painting that he... (full context)
Chapter 8
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
...hangs in the back of his mind like a dream, but then he sees the portrait covered by a decorative screen and remembers what he saw. He thinks he must have... (full context)
Chapter 9
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Dorian requests that Basil do a portrait of Sybil. Basil agrees but really wants Dorian to sit for him again himself. Dorian... (full context)
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
...strived in his art and because of this, he had worshipped him. He had created portrait after portrait, comparing him to heroes of history, until the fateful day when he vowed... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Basil, set to go home, reaffirms the importance of Dorian and the painting to him, and Dorian reassures him that he sees the confession merely as a compliment.... (full context)
Chapter 10
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
...to get suspicious of his servant Victor, imagining him sneaking a glance at the covered portrait. He organizes for his housekeeper to bring him the key to the schoolroom at the... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Dorian finds a morbid Venetian embroidery to wrap the painting in. He considers that it may once have shrouded a corpse and now its task... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
As he covers the painting, Dorian’s pain at seeing the changed face is more intense than ever. It seems that... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
...Mr. Hubbard is glad to do the job, and with his helpers carries the covered painting to the top of the house. While they are occupied with the back-breaking task, Dorian... (full context)
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Dorian enjoys a moment of relief, knowing that the painting is shut away. But soon, he worries that the servant Victor has returned from his... (full context)
Chapter 13
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
...see his soul just as he wished. As he flings off the cover of the portrait, Basil lets out a cry of horror at the state of his once most beautiful... (full context)
Chapter 19
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Dorian likens the painting to a quote about “a face without a heart”. This reminds Henry of another quote... (full context)
Chapter 20
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
...he becomes more and more distressed, he notices that red stains have grown on the painting, like blood. He considers making a confession. His own motives now seem completely unclear to... (full context)
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
In a frenzy, Dorian grabs the murder-weapon. He wants to kill the painting that has destroyed his life. As he strikes, a terrible cry is heard by his... (full context)