Maison de Victor Hugo celebrates the writer’s friendship with Louis Boulanger

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Lépoldine (Hugo) at 4, ©Maisons de Victor Hugo Paris-Guernesey Paris Musées

Louis Boulanger needed all the energy of Olivia Voisin, director of Orléans museums and a great specialist of Achille and Eugène Devéria, to make Parisians rediscover his role in Victor Hugo’s life and his talent as a painter and print maker. His art is  very classical and reflects Romanticism in the first half of the 19 th century (1800-1867); mostly it fits perfectly in the ravishing museum devoted to Victor Hugo on place des Vosges and feeds our curiosity on the friendships developed early on by the greatest French writer… It is the perfect occasion to visit his house, if you have never been.

Claude Frollo and la Esmeralda, Illustration for ” Notre-Dame de Paris”, ca 1831, ©Maisons de Victor Hugo Paris-Guernesey Paris Musées

Born from a military father who was posted in Italy and married an Italian, Boulanger never bothered to do his own publicity, never gave away paintings to a museum and never published his journal. Yet he was one of the most influential young artists in the 1820’s to promote Romanticism, a movement he will establish in 1828 with this two friends. He is until now, only famous for one very large 5 m high work “Mazeppa” after the poem by Byron which tells the story of a Ukrainian lord. It is hanging in the Museum of Arts in Rouen.

Achille Devéria, 1837, Paris Musée du Louvre

When he is 10, Boulanger meets Eugène Deveria at school and his older brother, Achille, will become his teacher and introduce him to the National French library’s collections of medals among other treasures. Achille was the cataloger of BNF and published an illustrated encyclopedia of artists in 1857, which became a precious source for art historians. He died in his office on a December 23 shortly before midnight…The importance of the Devéria family on him is huge as is his early friendship with Victor Hugo.

La Esmeralda at Madame de Gondelaurier, 1831, ©Maisons de Victor Hugo Paris-Guernesey Paris Musées

When you first walk in the exhibition, there are many portraits of Hugo’s family, his daughter Leopoldine at age 4, Madame Victor Hugo putting to sleep her son François Victor, Charles Hugo, but also inks on paper of Paganini playing the violin, dancer Mlle Tullia, Rosine and Figaro in the Barbier de Séville. The artist’s world is well established and he is at the heart of literary and musical circles of the time.

Gérard Audinet, director of Maisons de Victor Hugo and Olivia Voisin, director of Museums of Orléans are the two curators of the show

Very early on, he starts illustrating Victor Hugo’s works with lithographs “Les Orientales” with his father in law Charles Motte who was a printer, and also concentrates on Shakespeare (Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet). Don Quichotte is the theme of an excellent painting in 1857, there is a strange dark portrait of Victor Hugo and his wife, Balzac and Alexandre Dumas fils with whom he traveled to Spain. He also creates historical costumes for le Théâtre Français which will take a huge importance in theatrical productions such as “Hernani” by Hugo or “Caligula” by Dumas and also paints large decors for private collectors such as Hotel Mahler at 52 rue du Fbg Saint Honoré.

Feast Venitian style, panel for M. Mahler’s dinging room, 1846-1851, Paris Musée Carnavalet

His paintings of Algeria and Cadix bring a nice light in the exhibition which is a little dark and austere as far as portraits go. One learns thanks to the pretty portrait of his wife, that the married very late, only once his older sister Annette had died (in 1853). Adélaïde Lemonier-Delafosse was 23 years younger, and he will die after only 11 years of marriage leaving behind his 7 year old son, Louis René, who will also be a painter.

Adélaïde Boulanger, born Lemonnier-Delafosse, 1858, Paris Musée du Louvre

An object of curiosity in the first rooms is the drawing of a young Chinese man, Kan-Khao, who arrived by ship in October 1920 in Paris. He was brought back by Captain Philibert who wanted to teach him French and the doctor on the boat happened to be Théodule Devéria, brother of… The work is interesting for it shows the taste and curiosity for exotic men which prevailed at the time.

Louis Boulanger created the “visual identity” of Romanticism say the curators and fits perfectly in the Maison de Victor Hugo at 6 place des Vosges. Until March 5.

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