The apartment in the days of Victor Hugo
The apartment on the Place des Vosges, which was re-let after the Hugo family’s departure, and later converted into classrooms, has undergone many changes. The layout of the rooms has been altered, and most of the furniture was sold off in separate lots in 1852 as the family departed into exile. There are hardly any pictures showing the layout of the rooms in Victor Hugo’s time. However, we can build up an image of the residence from archives, museum documents and visitors' accounts.
Victor Hugo's guests - see the information panel insets - have left us descriptions of the apartment on the Place Royale, now Place des Vosges. These accounts describe the décor, merely to set the scene for their author’s meeting with the master of the house. They describe mainly the reception rooms, and remain quite vague and inaccurate. While we are able to piece them together, they are sometimes contradictory.
Despite some uncertainties, a number documents have allowed us to restore the layout and purpose of the rooms, which also changed over time. The key source is the records of the polisher, Guignon, which have been conserved by the museum. He maintained the parquet flooring, carpets, furniture and tapestries, and hung paintings, etc. The museum's archives hold many invoices that also provide an insight into the domestic life of the Hugo family, and also give us an impression of the commercial activity in the neighbourhood at that time.
Some of the details (such as the fireplace in the dining room, the “Gothic” furniture, Hugo’s liking for tapestries, and combinations of fabric and copper studs) already anticipate the décor of Hauteville House.
The staircase of the Hotel de Rohan-Guéménée has been altered. In Victor Hugo's time, the entrance hall reached the middle of the current antechamber. To the left, it led straight into a kitchen looking onto an inner courtyard, which no longer exists.
Antechamber (now Room 1 of the Museum, “Antechamber”)
As soon as you step into the antechamber, Victor Hugo's taste is evident, in the two large chests, plaster casts, copper medallions, paintings, engravings, etc. The polisher, Guignon, listed as many as 80 items in December 1840, when a mahogany sideboard was installed between the doors to the kitchen and sitting room, to display the silverware.
Leather Room and Dining Room (now Room 2 of the Museum, the “Red Room”)
From here, you could access the Leather Room which overlooks the square. It is decorated in patent leather, except for one wall, which is covered from floor to ceiling with a medieval tapestry. Between the windows stands a stove and a large, carved medieval sideboard. Opposite, there is a bench with a backrest in the same style, as well as a shelf between the two doors of the corridor and the large drawing room. The furniture is covered with vases and porcelain, and an array of ancient weapons hangs here.
Red damask doors and the ceiling in the same fabric, installed in 1837, complete the décor. In November 1840, this room was converted into a dining room (when Madame Hugo moved her bedroom into the previous dining room). The marble floor was then covered with an old Persian carpet.
A passageway separated this first sitting room from the dining room on the courtyard side. This dining room contains a fireplace with patterned ceramic tiles. Victor Hugo created the same type of fireplace for the dining room of Hauteville House. Madame Hugo installed her bedroom here in 1840. These two rooms and the passageway occupied the space taken up by the present Red Drawing Room.
The Large Drawing Room (now Room 3 of the Museum, “Chinese Room”)
Following the wall where a long balcony used to run (the balcony no longer exists), you come to the large drawing room, which connects, through a door at the rear, with the passageway serving the bedrooms. It is the large drawing room, especially, that conjures the visitors, including members of the Romantic set (artists, writers, politicians and famous people) who used to throng here. Dating from 1847, it is also the only room represented in the Museum whose designer has not been identified.
The floor is covered with a huge rug and the walls are hung with the familiar red damask that dominates the house. On the wall opposite the entrance, the fireplace is engulfed in a tapestry adorned with gilded studs and surrounded by cupboards with doors hidden under precious silk drapes, with a red background on the right and a blue background on the left. The furniture consists of gilded wooden tables and a carved wooden divan crowned with a velvet canopy. A vicious rumour suggested that this canopied sofa was Victor Hugo's “throne”, from where he reigned over the Romantic scholars who flocked to this room. Théophile Gautier's famous pun on the “Dey's dais” led to confusion, as the Ottoman banner from the capture of Algiers, given to the poet by Lieutenant Eblé, actually hung on the opposite wall, as you can see in the drawing.
Ceremonial portraits decorate this drawing room. The marble bust of David d'Angers sits on its pedestal, draped in red silk and adorned with gilded studs. Also featured are paintings of Madame Hugo by Louis Boulanger; the master of the house with his son François-Victor by Auguste de Châtillon, and a full-length portrait of General Hugo, and Léopoldine by Dubufe. In July 1837, the painting by Saint-Evre, Inez de Castro, was hung here. It was a gift from the Duke and Duchess of Orleans to Victor Hugo It was probably in front of the door to the rear of this room that Auguste de Châtillon painted the portrait of Victor Hugo with his son [François-]Victor. And it is also likely that in the portrait of Léopoldine with the Book of Hours, the young girl is sitting on a chair in this very room.
At the back of the house, in the wing set at right angles, there was a passageway along the wall, on the opposite side to the current corridor. Lit by a small window (like those that can still be seen on the other floors), it gave access to the rooms that looked out onto the courtyard.
Madame Hugo and the Girls’ Bedrooms (now Room 4 of the Museum, “Dining Room’)
The current Room 4 of the museum was divided in two, between the windows, with fireplaces on either side of the dividing wall. The first of the rooms, closer to the drawing room, was Madame Hugo's bedroom until 1840, when she moved into the former dining room. Although there are different versions, it is likely that the girls shared the next room but that Léopoldine was given a separate room when she became an adult.
Boys’ Bedroom? (now Room 5 of the Museum, “Small Study”)
There is little documented evidence of the adjacent room as a dressing room, or more likely as the bedroom of the boys, Charles and François-Victor. There are no sources suggesting that it was anything else.
Victor Hugo's Study and Bedroom (now Rooms 6 and 7 of the Museum)
It is possible that these last two rooms are laid out and partitioned differently from what they were in Victor Hugo’s time. The first is Victor Hugo's bedroom, which had a single window (whereas there are currently two windows), and the second is the study, according to Victor Hugo's own description (“At the end of the apartment was the study belonging to the master of the house, with an exit to the backstairs”). It would also be more logical for this important room to be the largest. Hugo himself referred to his work space in a poem in his Voix intérieures [Inner Voices] collection, called A des oiseaux envolés [To the Flown Birds]. The floor of the study has brown tiles and parquet flooring covered with rugs. Green and gold curtains frame the stained glass windows that filter the light. A carved wooden mirror surmounts a green damask couch, and on the table is a compass, known as Christopher Columbus' compass, bearing the date 1489 and the inscription “La Pinta”. The bedroom walls and door are hung with red damask, and a tapestry serves as an alcove. In 1837, a painting was attached to the ceiling, according to tradition. Le Moine rouge [The Red Monk] by Auguste de Châtillon depicts a religious man in a flamboyant red robe reading a Bible, alongside a naked woman who serves as his lectern.