When Basil first creates the portrait of Dorian Gray, he captures the handsome young man in all his youthful beauty. When Dorian sees the picture, he is completely impressed by his own beauty, and feels sad that as he grows old, his good looks will be spoiled. He says that he would give anything, including his soul, if he might retain his physical beauty, and have the picture grow old in his stead.
A short time later, Dorian falls in love with a young actress named Sibyl. Taken with a sudden passion, he becomes engaged to her, only to break her heart after she puts on a poor performance on the stage. Dorian tells Sibyl that he only loved her because of the great art he thought she would bring to his life, and coldly breaks off the relationship. When Dorian goes home, he notices that the picture of himself has changed; his smile is now spoiled by a look of cruelty.
As Dorian goes through life growing ever more depraved, the picture also grows more horrible, ravaged by the evidence of cruelty and evil. Determined to enjoy his eternal youth, Dorian adopts a lifestyle that is increasingly sordid, and the picture continues to change, reflecting the degeneration of his character.
Eighteen years later, Dorian has commited every kind of depravity imaginable, even having murdered Basil, the artist who painted his portrait so many years ago. He finally regrets the life he has led and vows to change, but in the end, tormented by his sins, he takes a knife and slashes the picture, which by now reflects a monstrosity. The servants hear a terrible cry from their master, and discover Dorian dead, with a knife through his heart. The picture, however, is now as perfect as it ever was, showing Dorian as a young man in all his youthful beauty.