Victor Hugo craftsman of his legend

Victor Hugo craftsman of his legend

  • Victor Hugo seated, his left hand at the temple.

    HUGO Charles (1826 - 1871)

  • Victor Hugo listening to God.

    VACQUERIE Auguste (1819 - 1895)

To close

Title: Victor Hugo seated, his left hand at the temple.

Author : HUGO Charles (1826 - 1871)

Creation date : 1853

Date shown: 1853

Dimensions: Height 95 - Width 67

Technique and other indications: Salted paper print from a collodion glass negative

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 98CE1888 / Pho1986-123-103

Victor Hugo seated, his left hand at the temple.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Victor Hugo listening to God.

Author : VACQUERIE Auguste (1819 - 1895)

Creation date : 1853

Date shown: 1853

Dimensions: Height 95 - Width 72

Technique and other indications: salted paper

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 98CE1896 / Pho1986-123-107

Victor Hugo listening to God.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

Publication date: December 2006

Historical context

The "writer-king"

Since Antiquity, the portrayal of the writer or poet has emphasized its importance in society and illustrated its modes of inspiration, mostly of divine origin. Now the poet endowed with an aura of almost divine essence is represented in a more or less academic manner and invested in a role of scout for his contemporaries.

Image Analysis

The soul of the poet

Through photography, a technique in which he was one of the first to sense the possibilities, Hugo renews his own image. His youthful portraits [1] showed him as a romantic and smooth young man; the photographs taken during the first years of exile bring a human, carnal dimension and a dose of expressiveness never before seen.

Victor Hugo seated, his left hand to the temple (1853-1855)
Directed by Charles Hugo, this portrait of his father illustrates the deep symbiosis that existed between them. As in many of his photographs, Victor Hugo is shown in a frontal position that fits into a vertical format. He chooses a stern bet and expression. The hand to the temple reproduces the traditional attitude of the thinker and symbolizes his intellectual activity. Already adopted to adorn the frontispiece of Odes and Ballads in 1829, it gained even more intensity and strength here thanks to the contrasts of light and shadow which underline the importance of the forehead, seat of the intellect, of the scrutinizing gaze, and reveal the character's concentration. But the eyes on the viewer add a combative dimension to the image. Since exile, Hugo calls out to his fellow citizens, proves to them that he is not giving up the fight and invites them to join him in common cause against social injustices, the death penalty, etc.

Victor Hugo listening to God (1853-1854)
Writer and familiar with Hugo since 1826 [2], Auguste Vacquerie produces a series of photographs that reveal an aesthetic approach. A lover of painting, he technically opts for the use of the paper negative, which gives the image a softer and more vague outline. Working in very small formats, he seeks less strangeness and the spectacular than harmonious poetry.
“Victor Hugo listening to God” is a random title, which translates an inscription which Victor Hugo captioned one of the known events, “Oyendo a Dios”. Vacquerie himself also captioned this photograph “Victor Hugo listening to Phèdre”, an allusion to Racine's reading sessions which took place in Jersey.
Obviously, beyond the evocation of a moment of life, this eloquent representation is supposed to take on a universal meaning, that of the communion between God and the superior spirit of the writer who receives from him inspiration and the word of truth. . This timeless moment is fixed with great sobriety, the massive silhouette of the poet standing out against a wall surrounded by light.

Interpretation

The renewal of the vision

Both of these portraits contribute to a common goal, the metamorphosis of exiled Hugo into a legendary figure. They have in common the modernity of their vision and the absence of decorative or clothing artifices. Only the pose and the skillful use of light provide the stylization necessary to create a typical image. It is not memories of exile that are reported, but moments when the poet is grasped in his essence, in accordance with the iconographic tradition. Nevertheless, if the poses awaken collective memories relating to the figure of the inspired poet and the thinker, the use of photography renews the genre by bringing a direct tone. The image, breaking away from academicism, proves to be more effective.
Subsequently, the portraits of the writer will prove to be less intense and less compelling than for those years in exile; they will nevertheless remain imbued with the same aesthetic maturity, the same solemnity, and convey the same ideas of depth, energy and intransigence.

  • writers
  • photography
  • portrait
  • Hugo (Victor)
  • Chateaubriand (François-René de)

Bibliography

Paul BENICHOU The Coronation of the Writer, 1750-1830: an essay on the advent of secular spiritual power in modern France Paris Gallimard, new. ed. 1996.Sophie GROSSIORD Victor Hugo, "and if there is only one left ..." Paris, Gallimard coll. "Discoveries", 1998. Victor HUGO The punishments reprint Paris, Hachette, 1998 Adèle HUGO The Diary of Adèle Hugo Paris, Modern Letters, Minard, 1968-1984.Adèle HUGO Victor Hugo told by Adèle Hugo Paris, Plon, 1985. Hubert JUNE Victor Hugo 3 vol., Paris, Flammarion, 1992.The Glory of Victor Hugo exhibition catalog, National Galleries of the Grand Palais, 1985-1986, Paris, RMN, 1985.Together with the sun. Victor Hugo, photographs of exile catalog of the exhibition, Paris, Musée d´Orsay-Maison de Victor Hugo, 1998.

Notes

1. See for example the portraits made by the painter Devéria, the sculptors David d'Angers and Jean Duseigneur.

2. Auguste Vacquerie's brother had married Léopoldine. The tragic death of the couple in 1843 strengthened ties with the Hugo family, with whom Auguste lived during his years in exile.

To cite this article

Stéphanie CABANNE, "Victor Hugo, craftsman of his legend"


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