Guide Tour of Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, France

Maison de Victor Hugo is a writer’s house museum located where Victor Hugo lived for 16 years between 1832–1848. The museum consists of an antechamber leading through the Chinese living room and medieval style dining room to Victor Hugo’s bedroom. Victor Hugo’s House also manage Hauteville House, Guernsey (Channel Islands). It is one of the 14 City of Paris’ Museums that have been incorporated since January 1, 2013 in the public institution Paris Musées.

Enter the intimacy of Victor Hugo, monument of literature, world visionary, freedom fighter… Become familiar with the man, the visionary artist, the committed thinker and of course the genius writer. Victor Hugo lived a life worthy of his novels. He composed his writings in a plurality of places. Explore the places where he lived and which he himself shaped. His drawings, his decorations, his literature works.

The museum of Victor Hugo, which managed two houses, the universal work of this “ocean man” has dropped anchor in Paris and Guernsey. Nowadays, visitors to Guernsey can discover this sanctuary preserved in its integrity. In Paris, the museum is divided between Victor Hugo’s apartment on the second floor and a space on the first floor devoted to temporary exhibitions. The museum organizes two per year offering both the discovery of the collections and the resonances that the prodigiously rich and modern work of Victor Hugo keeps today.

Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris is a House of Victor Hugo in the image of those of Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe. The museum is in the Place des Vosges (3rd and 4th arrondissement of Paris) and dates from 1605 when a lot was granted to Isaac Arnauld in the south-east corner of the square. It was substantially improved by the de Rohans family, who gave the building its current name of Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée.

Victor-Marie Hugo as a French poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and dramatist of the Romantic movement. Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest and best-known French writers. During a literary career that spanned more than sixty years, he wrote abundantly in an exceptional variety of genres: lyrics, satires, epics, philosophical poems, epigrams, novels, history, critical essays, political speeches, funeral orations, diaries, and letters public and private, as well as dramas in verse and prose.

His most famous works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831. In France, Hugo is renowned for his poetry collections, such as Les Contemplations (The Contemplations) and La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Ages). Hugo was at the forefront of the Romantic literary movement with his play Cromwell and drama Hernani. Many of his works have inspired music, both during his lifetime and after his death, including the musicals Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris. He produced more than 4,000 drawings in his lifetime, and campaigned for social causes such as the abolition of capital punishment.

Though he was a committed royalist when young, Hugo’s views changed as the decades passed, and he became a passionate supporter of republicanism serving in politics as both deputy and senator. His work touched upon most of the political and social issues and the artistic trends of his time. His opposition to absolutism and his colossal literary achievement established him as a national hero. He was honoured by interment in the Panthéon.

The museum
Victor Hugo was 30 when he moved into the house in October 1832 with his wife Adèle. They rented a 280 square metre apartment on the second floor. He will experience sixteen years of social, political and family life there. During his stay in these places, he receives his friends Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, Prosper Mérimée or even Sainte-Beuve., and saw the wedding of his daughter Léopoldine there, then the drama of Villequier in 1843.

In the study, he wrote many of his major works: Lucrezia Borgia, Les Burgraves, Ruy Blas, Marie Tudor, Les Chants du Twilight, Les Voix Interieurs, Les Rayons et les Ombres, a large part of Les Miserables, the beginning of The Legend of Centuries and Contemplations. During his stay, he was elected to the French Academy, named Pair of France, then deputy for Paris.

It was in 1902 for the centenary of Victor Hugo, Paul Meurice, who was close to the poet from the 1830s, donate property to the City of Paris. The mansion was converted into a museum.

Inaugurated on June 30, 1903, the museum is the expression of Paul Meurice’s passion and generosity. Prodigal, he donated his immense collection and acquired that of Juliette Drouet, which his nephew Louis Koch had inherited, to offer it to the museum. He buys or raises donations to fill gaps. He orders living artists to celebrate Hugo or his work and finances development work. Above all, he makes himself the true designer of the museum.

In 1927, two years after the death of Georges Hugo, his sister and her children, Marguerite, François and Jean, donated to the City of Paris the house that Hugo had acquired and fitted out in Guernsey, Hauteville House. This symbolic place of both exile and the writing of so many great works is also the expression, through its striking decorations, of the poetic and philosophical universe of Victor Hugo.

The apartment underwent various transformations after 1848 which no longer made it possible to precisely reconstruct the original setting, such as the disappearance of the corridors and the balcony on the square, although it had always retained its original surface area. Moreover, the sale at auction and the dispersal of the Hugo family’s possessions in 1852 did not make it possible to faithfully reconstruct the furniture.

The museum is closed fromApril 15, 2019toNovember 5, 2020 for work to redevelop the tour circuit and the creation of an educational workshop and a tea room overlooking the interior courtyard which will be planted.

A visit to the museum allows you to discover the apartment occupied by the Hugo family on the second floor, and several exhibition rooms on the first floor. The apartment is presented in the form of seven adjoining rooms, which chronologically evoke the writer’s journey: before exile, during exile, since exile.

The antechamber presents his youth, the first years of his marriage to Adèle Foucher; the red room evokes his stay in Place Royale (former name of Place des Vosges) with the help of various paintings and documents or even thanks to the bust of Victor Hugo by David d’Angers. This piece therefore saw the passage of many other romantic artists such as Théophile Gaultier, or even Sainte-Beuve.

The Chinese drawing room and the two rooms that follow evoke the exile from 1852 to 1870. One room presents the stay at Hauteville House, in Guernsey, as well as numerous photographs of the writer and his family taken by Charles Hugo and Auguste Vacquerie during their exile in Jersey, from 1852 to 1855. The Chinese room is made up of furniture originally found in Juliette Drouet’s house in Guernsey (Hauteville Fairy).

The penultimate room, called Cabinet de travail, evokes the family’s return to the capital in 1870, and the last years of the writer in his apartment on Avenue d’Eylau, which he occupied from 1878, using the original furniture. You can contemplate his very famous portrait by Léon Bonnat. The last room reconstructs the mortuary chamber in 1885, avenue d’Eylau.

The apartment on the first floor regularly presents temporary exhibitions, and, in rotation, the six hundred drawings in the museum’s possession, out of the three thousand executed by the writer. These evoke architectural or maritime elements. The print room and the library, which houses eleven thousand works on the life and work of Victor Hugo, are open, by appointment, to researchers.

With just over 18,000 autograph letters, correspondence is a strong feature of the museum’s manuscript collections. To affirm this image, the museum has embarked on an ambitious digitization project to make this heritage more easily available to the public, which takes us into the intimacy of the great man, with the letters of Juliette Drouet to Victor Hugo or the letters of the poet to his family or to third parties.

The Manuscripts. The collection of manuscripts was naturally oriented towards family production, Victor Hugo having bequeathed his manuscripts to the National Library of France. It testifies to this virus of writing winning over each of the members of the “goum” and making literature a second family home. The museum thus preserves the writings of General Hugo (father of Victor Hugo), of Madame Hugo, a large part of the exile diary of Adèle (second daughter of Hugo) as well as her autograph scores, the manuscripts of her son’s novels Charles, the translations of Shakespeare by François-Victor, and an important fund dedicated to Paul Meurice.

The archives. The museum also keeps numerous archives and documents. Leases, invoices, copyright statements, etc. plunge us into the daily life of the writer. Testimonies collected during the poet’s birthdays or on the occasion of his funeral: verses, plays, musical scores which were dedicated and addressed to him allow us to take the measure of his fame and the popular affection which surrounded him.

The 3rd art of Victor Hugo is that of decor. This often overlooked aspect of his creative genius, the museum is the only one to be able to present it. Loaded with symbols, references to his work and his philosophy, the decors of Hauteville House are also the expression of his creative inventiveness, full of poetry, humor and the unexpected.

Hauteville House, entirely fitted out by him, remains the house-work which Charles Hugo said was aimed at “educating the mind through living”. Decorative elements made for Juliette Drouet for her house in Hauteville Fairy: a Chinese living room and a Gothic dining room were brought back and installed on the Place des Vosges.

The knowledge that we have of the apartment in the Place Royale (Place des Vosges) attests to the interest in decoration and the part played by Victor Hugo in it. We also know that he liked to participate in the decoration of his rooms. When he acquired Hauteville House in Guernsey he was able to devote himself to this passion to furnish the entire house as well as the one he then bought a little further down the same street, for Juliette Drouet: Hauteville Fairy.

Not without echoing his writing, Victor’s decorative style often works on the oxymoron, or the antithesis: “the old Chinese Holland”. He likes to combine Chinese and Gothic elements, Flemish tapestries and Turkish rugs, Delft tiles and Japanese porcelain. He composes his ceilings by framing Aubusson hangings with sculpted oak borders. He builds the fireplaces – emblems of the home par excellence – like veritable cathedrals.

He integrates objects – bead tapestries, torch holders, antique furniture – into his creations and uses entire porcelain services as a decorative material. He invents his own furniture by reassembling the dismembered elements of old chests for it.

When Juliette Drouet has to leave La Fallue, a house she lives nearby, she acquires with Victor Hugo who leaves her the usufruct, Hauteville Fairy, the first house that the poet and his family had lived in Guernsey, at 20 de la Hauteville Street. He then designed the decoration in 1863-1864, once again mixing chinoiserie and recreated Gothic furniture.

It is above all the panels, drawn, engraved and painted that characterize this decor. They adorned in particular the furniture and woodwork of the dining room. If the formula had already been tried at Hauteville House, it takes on its full extent here, which allows us to appreciate their relocation to Place des Vosges. Paul Meurice, who had bought them from Louis Koch, nephew and heir of Juliette Drouet, had them set up for the opening of the museum.

The glory of Victor Hugo was reflected in an incredible quantity of objects of all kinds made in his effigy, from the 1870s to the 1890s. But this glory was also written in the intimacy of the home, via memories or the relics linked to the life of the poet and those close to him – in particular Leopoldine.

Entering the museum from the outset, they constituted an “intimate museum” to which corresponded a “popular museum”. When the museum opened, two rooms staged an “intimate” Hugo and a “popular” Hugo. The instigators of this presentation, Paul Meurice and Paul Beuve wanted to “raise a temple” to the glory of Victor Hugo. From one to the other, we went around the Man and his myth.

The intimate museum brought together on the one hand objects illustrating the social and professional life of the poet, on the other hand relics. They were meant to trace his life and tell his story. Kept by Victor Hugo himself, then piously collected by his relatives, there were found, pell-mell, his academician and peer of France clothes, his deputies’ and senators’ scarves, or even a piece of bread from the seat of Paris, the inkwell he used when he wrote La Légende des siècle or the pens of Les Miserables … They were accompanied by objects of commemoration or honor: decorations, medals, charms, gifts or laurel wreaths.

There were also relics – locks of hair, shirts, shoes of Jeanne, collar of the Senate dog and a substantial set of objects related to Léopoldine, who died tragically in 1843 – crown and wedding dress, dress worn during her drowning… These objects relayed the family cult to which a kind of altar was dedicated – a corner cupboard in Madame Hugo’s bedroom – at Hauteville House in Guernsey.

The private Hugo was succeeded by the public Hugo through this astonishing “popular museum”. It was while returning home, on the evening of the poet’s funeral, on June 1, 1885, that Paul Beuve bought a terracotta dish bearing the portrait of Victor Hugo in relief. From then on, this modest employee will spend his time searching flea markets and markets to unearth plates, inkwells, photos, maps, almanacs, advertisements, busts, masks, pipe heads, snuffboxes, medals, charms, songbooks and others. bottles of ink… bearing the poet’s image.

Begun in 1885, the collection included 4,000 pieces in 1895 and 8,000 in 1902. On that date, in agreement with Paul Meurice, it was agreed that part of the collection would enter that of the future Victor Hugo museum – of which Paul Beuve would become the first librarian.

Ordinary, industrial, mass-produced objects, reflections of the greed of a few traders in search of publicity, they are worth more by what they tell us about both the time and the popularity of Hugo in the 1870s- 1902, only by their aesthetic qualities. It is their mass, their multiplication that reveals to us the incredible impact of Hugo’s work and the place, both symbolic and real, that the poet had taken in the minds of the French.

The second genius of Victor Hugo is to be one of the greatest designers of his time. His graphic work, at first intimate, has now taken its place in the pantheon of art. The museum offers the most significant collection to discover this work, one of the most singular and most modern produced in its time.

Founded around the initial core from Paul Meurice and Juliette Drouet – whose drawings he had acquired from his nephew Louis Koch – and continuously enriched since, the collection kept by the museum has more than 700 sheets. It makes it possible to apprehend practically all the facets of the graphic work of Victor Hugo. It is particularly rich in drawings with a true vocation of “work”, intended to be hung on the wall, sometimes in frames painted by Hugo himself. There are some of the greatest and most famous master drawings: The Burg at the Cross, The Helmets Lighthouse, The Eddystone Lighthouse, The Rat Tower….

Drawing was part of Victor Hugo’s education, but it was not until the early 1830s that he seemed to produce caricatures with a sharp and witty pen for his pleasure and that of those close to him. He also got into the habit of filling his travel diaries with drawings, most often in pencil, to preserve the memory of places or architectural details. It was from his travels on the banks of the Rhine, between 1838 and 1840, that, stimulated by the poetic spectacle of the burgs which stood on its mountainous banks, Hugo became more visionary in his drawings.

His practice often takes over from writing, especially when political action, which has monopolized him since 1848, diverts him from it. This is how, taking advantage of the parliamentary holidays, he set up a real studio in Juliette Drouet’s dining room in the summer of 1850. His creative fever was expressed in an intense production marked by the most important and strangest compositions. What are Le Burg à la Croix, Le Mushroom or Gallia, The Dead City, View of Paris, Landscape with Three Trees, etc.

Victor Hugo’s drawing then reveals an incredible technical richness, the result of an experiment where knowledge and imagination intertwine in a very sophisticated way: use of soluble screen for effects of cracks, mixtures of inks, gouache, various materials, scrapings… This rich technique that he often works from the ink stain, or an almost automatic gesture, gives his drawings a modernity that will fascinate the surrealists. These will be at the origin of the modern look we give them.

To this wave also belong the first “souvenirs” – Souvenir of the Black Forest, of Spain– whose series project will be resumed and continued. Equipped with painted frames, they will decorate the pool table at Hauteville House. The museum preserves most of it with Souvenir du Neckar, Normandy, Brittany and Switzerland.

The years of exile will see intense graphic creativity with fantastic designs imbued with the experience of Jersey tables, and many seascapes. The use of stencils or cut-out paper screens, prints of lace or leaves is particularly characteristic of this period.

Victor Hugo’s great fight against the death penalty is expressed by a few masterpieces such as the “hanged man” Ecce andEcce Lex or Justitia. Distance will also be at the origin of the custom of sending “greetings cards” (drawings where Hugo plays with the spelling of his name) of which the museum keeps several examples. The development of Hauteville House will be the occasion for many sketches of furniture and decor projects. Hugo sometimes gives graphic expression to his literary creation – notably for Les Travailleurs de la mer –, with Le Phare d’Eddystone and Le Phare des Casquets described in The Man Who Laughs or the “frontispiece” of The Legend of the Centuries or More late La Tourgue.

Among the late works, begun at the end of the exile, stand out in the collection, the series of the Poem of the witch, a set of grotesque faces in which Hugo seems to awaken the memory of Goya, in a new plea against blind justice. and cruel.

Hugo also left a number of inkblots whose status may seem uncertain today, are they simple creative stages, awaiting an interpretation that “prolongs” them (according to André Masson’s formula) or, as their quality and richness invite us to think of works in themselves, true abstract landscapes?

Many of Victor Hugo’s characters have taken shape in our imagination through the images given of them by the designers who, in the 19th century, accompanied the rise of illustrated editions. But the poet’s writings also very early inspired painters and sculptors. Gathered in large part by Paul Meurice who added commissions for the museum, this fund now includes no less than 600 works, paintings, drawings, sculptures…

The first illustrators of Victor Hugo’s work were above all his friends: Achille and Eugène Devéria, Louis Boulanger, Alfred and Tony Johannot, Célestin Nanteuil, members of the Romantic Cenacle, around 1830. They worked not only for the first illustrated editions whose romanticism marks a revival only for the theater of Victor Hugo through costume models or stage representations as is the case with the monumental scene of the affront of Lucrezia Borgia by Louis Boulanger. C last, very close to the master, works as well on the preparatory watercolor for the engraving for Notre-Dame de Paris, as the lithography (Les Fantômes, La Ronde Sabbat) or even the painting (Le Feu du ciel, the second version of La Ronde Sabbat) thus initiating this diversity that we find through the museum’s collections.

Victor Hugo has always objected to the original editions of his works being illustrated, but he willingly authorized it from the second. One of the most striking phenomena is the stroke of genius of Gustave Brion who, as soon as Les Misérables was published, had the idea of disseminating his drawings through photography. The success of his albums imposes the typical representations of the people of the novel such that the cinema will popularize them even later.

Each great novel by Victor Hugo will give rise to several illustrated editions. The successes of FN Chifflart for The Workers of the Sea– he also produced spectacular drawings for The Legends of the Centuries – or by Georges Rochegrosse for The Man Who Laughs are notable. Successive editions add up the collaborations, with Daniel Vierge in particular, before the multiple editions of the complete works become real companies reusing old illustrations or creating new ones. The collection of the museum is in this respect very interesting by its richness, bringing together original drawings or paintings, sometimes the photos of the drawings carried over to the woodcuts, the fumés or trial proofs, in different states and the editions themselves.

Paul Meurice, who was regularly commissioned by Victor Hugo to supervise these editions and monitor their illustration, was therefore particularly sensitive to this. Also, for the constitution of the museum he sought to bring together the largest and most representative set, with examples, in particular, of the paintings, often in grisaille or monochrome, produced by artists whose fame as was then called upon to serve the glory of Victor (Le Satyre by Cormon or Fantin-Latour, Le Titan by Cabanel, Le Sacre de la Femme by Baudry, etc.).

He will also be keen to complete this work by placing an order for the opening of the museum of paintings illustrating famous characters or scenes from the work and life of Victor Hugo (The Premiere of Hernani by Albert Besnard, A tear for a drop of water by Olivier Merson, The Burgraves of Rochegrosse…).

In the first years of exile, photography became a family affair. Hugo is very attentive to this very young art. He perceives the political use of it to spread his image of exile in France. The poet’s interest in photography can also be seen in the many prints he has kept for their documentary or artistic value.

From the young romantic writer with long hair to the glorious old man with a white beard, photographed on the rock of exile, painted with his elbow leaning on books, caricatured on the cover of a newspaper, cast in bronze with his forehead bent over the infinity, at all ages, in all materials, Victor Hugo was unquestionably one of the most portrayed men of his time.

Born from the passion of Paul Meurice, a friend of Victor Hugo, the museum was, from the outset, intended to be the conservatory of his image, that of the man as much as that of the writer. Among the hundreds of portraits in the collections, very few are simple souvenir portraits or even family portraits.

Hauteville House in Guernsey
April 7, 2019, Hauteville House, Victor Hugo’s home in Guernsey, opened its doors to the public after eighteen months of work necessary to safeguard this place steeped in the memory of a literary, artistic and political life outside of the common. Visitor experiences it through the route that leads him from the shadow of the ground floor to the light of the top floor.

The only residence that belonged to Victor Hugo (its Parisian accommodation was rented by the writer), Hauteville House was donated in 1927 to the City of Paris by his descendants. Along with the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée located on Place des Vosges in Paris, it is the only museum that offers an exceptional collection of literary and artistic heritage.

Located on the heights of St. Peter Port, Hauteville House sheltered Victor Hugo and his family in exile for nearly 15 years, from 1856 to 1870. These determining years largely contributed to forge the political figure of Victor Hugo and to strengthen the image of the republican and committed writer, a fierce opponent of the Second Empire.

Hauteville House thus offers a rare testimony to the commitment and the work of the poet, who, in addition to writing the great masterpieces of the second part of his career there, himself staged the space and redesigned the architecture of the house. Hugo thus expresses an extremely modern aesthetic, made up of contrasts and inventions, testifying to his great artistic freedom.

The residence, built on 5 levels surmounted by a belvedere, dominates the old town of Saint Peter Port and the bay of Havelet. Entirely furnished and decorated by the poet, everything bears witness to the creative genius of the exile. “Autograph on three floors, a poem in several rooms”, according to Charles Hugo, a work in its own right, the house immerses the visitor in a unique atmosphere. Victor Hugo gave a symbolic dimension to his house where references to his writings, his philosophy and his vision of the world are omnipresent.