The opening chapters introduce us to the novel's major protagonists. Wilde characterises Lord Henry, Basil, and Dorian, and provides information that will inform the development of the story. Wilde establishes a sinister atmosphere in chapter one.
Walter Payter said that “To burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life” – Wilde was a hedonist and reflected this seeking of pleasure through Lord Henry Wootton in the first chapter. This is evident when Henry says: “Conscience is just a polite word for cowardice. No civilised man regrets a pleasure.” Lord Henry's philosophy of life, which is adopted by Dorian, is that the senses should be indulged to the full. In the fleeting sense experience lays the intensity of life, and all life is simply a series of these intense moments. This is not intended as a mindless indulgence for the sake of it, but is a conscious quest for beauty. Henry's belief is that self-development, not self-restraint, is the purpose of life. He describes this philosophy as a new Hedonism. It is a refined understanding and appreciation of life that amounts to a form of spirituality. Lord Henry is established by Wilde as a strong believer in the Aesthetic movement which sought to create a new kind of art, set free from Victorian notions of morality – this was to be ‘art for art’s sake’ – Art which existed only in order to be beautiful. Walter Payter was the father of the Aesthetic movement and so Henry is portrayed by Wilde as a disciple of this philosophy.
Chapter 1 opens with a description of Basil Hallward, a respected but reclusive painter, who is entertaining his friend, Lord Henry Wotton. It is a beautiful spring day. Lord Henry admires Basil's latest work-in-progress, a full-length portrait of a beautiful young man, and urges him to show it at a gallery. Basil says that he never will because he has "put