Victor Hugo was 35 in the year 1837, when this bust was sculpted by his friend David d’Angers. By that time, Hugo had already published his novel Notre-Dame de Paris (known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), as well as several volumes of poetry and plays such as Hernani and Le roi s’amuse, both of which would later serve as the basis for operas by Giuseppe Verdi.
Five years earlier, in 1832, Hugo rented a large apartment on the second floor of a building at the southeast corner of Place des Vosges. He and his family lived in this apartment for sixteen years, from 1832 to 1848. This apartment is now a museum about Hugo’s life and work, and the floor below is devoted to special exhibitions.
On February 25, 1830, the day before Victor Hugo’s twenty-eighth birthday, his play Hernani had its premiere at the Comédie-Française.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, Hernani was a huge success and immediately established Hugo as one of the leading French writers of his generation. It also established Romanticism as the dominant literary movement for decades to come — much to the distress of the conservative Classicists, who detested the play and attacked it vehemently. Hernani was performed thirty-six times during its first season, and later inspired the opera Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi. (I’ve never seen the play, but I once attended a concert performance of the opera in Frankfurt, conducted by Simone Young and featuring Elza van den Heever as Elvira.)
Like a lot of writers, Hugo preferred to write standing up, at least part of the time. If you look closely, you might be able to make out his quill pen and inkwell — though I’m not sure he really wrote his books with a quill pen, since metal dip pens started replacing quills during the 1820s.
This old poster in the museum advertises Victor Hugo’s complete works at 25 centimes per volume. Note the silhouette of Notre Dame in the background, a reminder of his novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Here’s another old poster in the museum, announcing a meeting at the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris on May 30, 1878, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the death of the French writer Voltaire (1694-1778). Victor Hugo presided at the meeting and also gave a speech about Voltaire.
This poster puzzled me at first, because the only Théâtre de la Gaîté I knew was the one on the Rue de la Gaîté in Montparnasse, which did not strike me as being a suitable venue for a dignified commemoration of Voltaire. Also, the address of the theater was given as Square des Arts-et-Métiers, which sounds more like the 3rd arrondissement than the 14th.
But it turns out that there really was another Théâtre de la Gaîté at 3-5 rue Papin, near the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers and the museum of the same name. Of this theater, which was highly successful in earlier times, only the front façade, the entrance and the foyer still exist. These parts have been incorporated into a new building called La Gaîté Lyrique, which is a digital arts and modern music center opened by the City of Paris in 2010. It faces a square which used to be called the Square des Arts-et-Métiers but is now the Square Émile-Chautemps.
This painting of Victor Hugo at age 77 is by Daniel Léon Saubès (1855-1922) after Léon Bonnat (1833-1922).
Currently the Maison Victor Hugo on Place des Vosges is closed, not because of the coronavirus pandemic but for another round of restoration. It is scheduled to re-open, if all goes well, in November 2020.
Location and aerial view of Place des Vosges on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2011 and 2016. I revised the text in 2020.