DÉCOUVREZ LES 14 MUSÉES DE LA VILLE DE PARIS
From the young romantic writer with long hair to the glorious white-bearded man in old age who was photographed on the rock of exile, painted with his elbow propped on books, caricatured on the cover of a newspaper, cast in bronze with head bowed towards the horizon, Victor Hugo was at all ages and in all materials undoubtedly one of the men of his time most often depicted in portraits.
Born of the enthusiasm of Victor Hugo’s friend Paul Meurice, the museum was from the outset intended to protect his image, both the man and the writer. Among the hundreds of portraits contained in collections, few are mere souvenir or family portraits and they show, for example, the promising young poet who had his buttonhole decorated at an early age with the Legion of Honour, or the leader of the Romantic movement who very early on merited a marble sculpture by his sculptor friend. Every one of them responded to a literary and then political strategy, or both at once. The signatures, including those of David d'Angers, Louis Boulanger and Auguste de Chatillon, say as much about artistic friendships as later, political friendships and common struggles. The real strategy implemented by the family photographic business of the “Jersey workshop” bears testimony to the romantic poet and the Republican symbolising exile, with long, tied back hair, or “listening to God” or among friends on the rock of exile...
Victor Hugo then let his beard grow and cut his hair. A journalist did not believe that this new face had a future. Yet it was this face that won glory and immortality. At the time of publication of Les Misérables, he permanently fixed the image of “Victor Hugo”. From then on, and even more so after returning to France in 1870, the now famous celebrity established the representation that would be dominated by two main models from the Nadar and Carjat photographs. They would be relentlessly reproduced in etchings and print, even as far as the cheap “plated” editions declaring him the Father of the Republic, the ideal grandfather and the poet, following the official portrait painted by Bonnat.
Throughout this repetitive glory, the caricature that flourished in the popular and illustrated press brought some humour and wit, but these reports also sometimes dented the stature of the great man ... who also liked to collect these newspapers himself.
The posthumous image outlived the man who is still the subject of many portraits today and whose face is often used. It was Rodin who accompanied this passage from life to immortality. Allowed to watch Hugo in his last years, after his death he gave him an image that would convey a new, visionary, inspired image.