Decors Created by Victor Hugo
The third type of art created by Victor Hugo was interior design. This is the least-known aspect of his creative genius and the museum is uniquely positioned to showcase it. Victor Hugo entirely refurbished Hauteville House on Guernsey. Today, the whole house remains the work of art that Charles Hugo described as “education for the mind in the form of a house”. Many of the furnishings created for Juliette Drouet’s neighbouring house, Hauteville II, have been reinstalled in two rooms of the museum in Paris. Some additional items and project drawings complete this insight.
What we know of the place Royale apartment (now place des Vosges) – as well as the rooms in the rue de La Tour d'Auvergne, where he lived until his departure into exile – attests to Victor Hugo’s interest and involvement in interior design. When he purchased Hauteville House on Guernsey, he was able to indulge his passion, refurbishing the entire house, as well as the two houses that Juliette Drouet occupied successively, La Fallue and Hauteville II.
Hauteville House is full of symbolism, references to his work and philosophy, and memories of his life. Its decor is also an expression of his creative inventiveness, with lots of poetry, humour and unexpected features.
Victor's style of interior design is not dissimilar to his style of writing, and often plays with oxymorons and antitheses. He spoke of "old Chinese Holland" and liked to combine Chinese and Gothic elements, contrasting Flemish tapestries and Turkish carpets with Delft tiles and Japanese porcelain. He composed his ceilings of Aubusson drapes with carved oak frames. He built fireplaces (that iconic symbol of the home) like cathedrals. He incorporated objects, such as beaded tapestries, torch-bearing slaves and antique furniture, into his creations, and used complete porcelain dining sets as decorative material. He made his own furniture by dismantling and reassembling parts of old chests. He hired a whole team of local craftsmen for this task. They worked under the direction of Peter Mauger (father and son) and Tom Gore, from Hugo’s own drawings.
When Juliette Drouet had to leave La Fallue, the house where she lived nearby, she bought Hauteville II with Victor Hugo who gave her the usufruct rights. This house, at 20 rue d'Hauteville, had been the poet and his family's first home on Guernsey. In 1863-1864, Hugo refurbished the original decor he had created, once again mixing Chinoiserie and Gothic furniture. Panels with drawings, engravings and paintwork are the key feature of this new decor. They embellished the cupboards, shutters and woodwork in the dining room and bedroom. Although this kind of decor had also been used at Hauteville House, it is here that it really comes into its own, as visitors to the place des Vosges may appreciate, despite some modifications that have been required to rehouse the panels. Paul Meurice bought these furnishings from Louis Koch, Juliette Drouet’s nephew and heir, and had them installed for the opening of the museum.
As soon as the decoration of Hauteville House was complete, Victor Hugo arranged for Edmond Bacot to record it in a series of photographs, thereby starting a long tradition and bearing witness to the fascination of this residence that continues right up to the present day.