|Victor Hugo (1802-1885), one of the great figures
of world literature, was also an important visual artist whose work in this area has been
little known until now. This exhibition, which will subsequently be shown at the Maison de
Victor Hugo in Paris, comprises a sizeable group of
works on paper and a group of objects, the products of his inexhaustable creative
imagination. With this exhibition, the Thyssen-Bornemisza is contributing to recent
initiatives which are making Hugo's pictorial art - somewhat eclipsed, perhaps, by the
great fame of his literary work - better known. These efforts aim to introduce the public
to a surprisingly innovative artist with regard to form and technique.
Hugo's drawings can be seen as an extension of his literary work and at times anticipating it, acting as trial sketches with which the writer would work out a particular idea. At other times the drawings were the result of impressions gained during his trips to Belgium, Germany and Spain, depicted in his landscapes of dark, sombre and sometimes flooded locations, such as the fortresses on the banks of the Rhine or the Spanish castles. These drawings, which are closely linked to the Romantic aesthetic, seem to us like theatrical backdrops awaiting the arrival of the characters on stage.
The exhibition also includes some pieces of furniture and various preparatory drawings for the furniture which Victor Hugo designed to decorate his houses. The poet created for himself an environment in harmony with his imaginary world, filled with multi-coloured floral decorations, chinoiserie and numerous references to his own self in the form of his initials, which appear hidden within most of his designs.
It was during the years of his exile in Jersey and Guernsey that Victor Hugo broke away from the descriptive vocabulary which predominated in figurative European art and developed a new imagery based on the free representation of his imagination, taking advantage of the unfinished nature of the shapes and of the role of chance.
Hugo's first technical innovation was the use of pochoir from 1850, initially consisting of reserves of white on dark backgrounds or dark images on pale backgrounds and playing with the concept of positive and negative. Later he would print the images on a support covered in ink. Subsequent to the pochoirs, Hugo produced impressions of other materials such as lace, coins and various plant forms.
The exhibition closes with a selection of his Blots which were produced by the free application of ink to paper, revaling Hugo's Informalist experimentation. This expression of freedom and spirit of modernity were made clear in the quotation from "Les Miserables" which inspired the title of this exhibition: "to paint a battle it needs one of those powerful painters who have something chaotic in their brush"; after which, the poet declared: "geometry deceives: only the hurricane is true".