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Ownership of The Arts Voyager & Dance Insider is available FREE to a new owner who will keep the present editor on staff part-time and help him get a carte de sejour to return to France, plus provide health insurance in France. For details please contact editor & publisher Paul Ben-Itzak.

The Arts Voyager, 4-4: Dispersion
A family disseminates a legacy: Collection Hugo at Christie's Paris

Left and Right: From Lot 1 of the Collection Hugo auction at Christie's Paris, April 4: Atelier Hugo-Vacquerie (Charles Hugo or Auguste Vacquerie), "Portraits of Victor Hugo, 1853-55." Four salt prints representing Victor Hugo in Jersey, the first of the Channel Islands where he took refuge with his family in 1852; in 1855 they'd move to Guernesey. Est. pre-sale: 4,000-6,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Text by and © Paul Ben-Itzak
Images ©Christie's Ltd. 2012

"I dedicate this book to the mountain of hospitality and liberty, to this corner of the old Normandy terrain where the noble humble people of the sea live, on the Isle of Guernesey, severe and gentle, my current refuge, my probable tomb."

-- Victor Hugo, "Les Travailleurs de la Mer," introduction to Book 1, "L'Archipel de la Manche."

Item: Christie's Paris to auction off 500 pieces offered by the descendants of Victor, Jean, and the rest of the Hugo family, April 4 2012.

What happened when the most French of the French, Victor Hugo, exiled himself to an island -- part of France until nature detached it from Normandy -- under the sovereignty of the British Crown, where, among other things, residents had to pay a yearly tribute to the Crown of two chickens and were taxed, not on their income, but on their fortune? He fell in love with the place. Choosing exile after Napoleon Bonaparte's coupe of 1852, Hugo stopped first in Brussels, then shortly afterwards the Channel Island of Jersey and, evicted from there after criticizing Queen Victoria, landed in Guernesey (as he spelled it) in 1855, not returning to France until 1870, refusing a general amnesty offered by Napoleon in 1859. Compared to France under Napoleon III (about whom he'd subsequently write, including the book, "Napoleon le petite"), he found in Guernesey a cradle of liberty, with four newspapers. "Imagine a deserted isle," he wrote in his introduction to "Les Travailleurs de la Mer" (1866). "The day after his arrival, Robinson creates a newspaper, and Friday subscribes.... Arrive, live, exist. Go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be who you want to be. No one has the right to know your name. Do you have your own god? Preach him. Do you have your own flag. Fly it. Where? In the street. It's white? Fine. It's blue? Very good. It's red? Red is a color. Does it please you to denounce the government? Get up on the podium and speak..... Think, speak, write, print, harangue -- it's your business."

Left: Lot 19: By Charles Hugo (1826-1871) or Auguste Vacquerie (1819 -1895), "Portrait of Adele Hugo as a young woman," circa 1856. Set of eight prints, one salt print mounted on card, seven collotypes mounted on cards. Est. 9,000-12,000 Euros. Few photographs from this period exist of Adele Hugo, the artist's daughter whose tragic story was recounted in Francois Truffaut's 1975 film "The Story of Adele H.." A copy of Grove Press's complete script of the film is also on auction (est. 180 - 200 Euros), complete with a note from Truffaut to Jean Hugo: "For Jean Hugo, another screen between the reality and the fiction of today, with my gratitude and my loyalty." Right: Lot 68: Edmond Bacot, "Les Misérables," 1878. 10 large albumen prints mounted on cards of Cécile Daubray in the role of Cosette, Dumaine in the role of Jean Valjean, seven signed in red ink 'Edouard Bacot' (on the image); one signed and dated 'Manday1878' (on the image) and one titled and dated on the card. Env. 30.5 x 26 cm. Est. 3,000-5,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

And yet. What allowed Hugo to extract himself from the soil which made him, and so immediately adapt to his new terrain? The family that surrounded him -- first at Marine Terrace in Jersey until 1855, then at Hauteville House in Guernesey. And that in turn instantly took to the islands, notably son Charles, who, with friend August Vacquerie, established a photographic atelier in a side room at Marine Terrace in 1852, with the eager backing of Hugo, who arranged to have a friend, the pioneering photographer Edmond Bacot, send over books so that Charles could instruct himself. In Guernesey, on the third floor of Hauteville House, the room which Hugo called his 'look-out' was also consecrated to a library. When Victor Hugo died in Paris in 1885 -- a death so monumental that French officials didn't just decide to put Hugo in the Pantheon, they decided to *move* the Pantheon -- if he left his oeuvre to France, he left Hauteville House to his grandchildren Georges and Jeanne, all his children having preceded Hugo in their passing. When Georges died in 1925, Jean -- Victor's great-grandson, and by then already an established artist, cohort of Cocteau and his composer Auriac -- decided to give Hauteville House to the City of Paris, but hung on to some of the furniture, objects, books, and photographs, including, notably, the armoire where Hugo stored his manuscripts and 50 original drawings by Victor Hugo, who might have been a full-time caricaturist, draftsman, or full-out painter had he not been so busy writing poems, treatises (against the death penalty, among other things), novels, and popular dramas ("Les Miserables" was also penned at Guernesey), not to mention serving in various French governments, even as mayor of the tony 8th arrondissement of Paris at one point. (He'd later campaign for amnesty for the Communards of 1871, shortly after his return to France.) These various artifacts eventually made their way to Jean Hugo's family home in Mas de Fourques, Lunel, near Montpellier, a dilapidated farmhouse -- or so Marie-Jacqueline Lancaster, sister of Jean's widow Lauretta, recalled in an London Independent obituary for Lauretta in 2005 -- where peacocks were known to fall out of the trees and Lauretta produced a local victual called Muscat de Lunel. There they entertained the likes of Dali, Picasso, and Cocteau. who, besides the peacocks, were likely to hear sheep being quartered outside their windows. (Also among the treasures were sketches by Jean's first wife Valentine of Ballets Russes legends Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky.)

Lot 179: Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885), "Souvenir de Belgique." Charcoal, brush, and black ink, grey and brown wash heightened with white, on brown paper, in a painted frame, also by Hugo. 157 x 594 mm. Est. 50,000-80,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

After Lauretta died, her and Jean's seven children were faced with a choice. "Raised among all these family souvenirs in the house of our father ..., Jean Hugo, great-grandson of the poet," they write in the Christie's Paris catalog for the April 4 sale of the Collection Hugo, "it was only afer the death of our mother Lauretta that we heard the word 'partage' (in French, this can mean 'divide' but also 'share') which entrained the word 'dispersion,' which in turn made us pronounce the word 'sale' because, in effect: how to cut up in seven pieces the crown of Leopoldine?," this last being one of Victor Hugo's two, short-lived daughters. (The other was Adele, whose unrequited love for a soldier was sung by Isabel Adjani in Francois Truffaut's 1975 film "The story of Adele H." A rare 1856 photograph of her, from the Charles Hugo-Vacquerie atelier, is also among the Hugo vestiges on auction, for an estimated $13,000 - $16,000.) (Also among the souvenirs were those belonging to the Hugos' cousin Charles Daudet.)

Lot 25: Thomas Singleton, "Views of Guernesey," circa 1870. Set of 12 prints: Eight large albumen prints mounted on cards; four unmounted prints. Various dimensions, from 13 x 20 cm. to 27.5 x 39 cm. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

I like this word 'dispersion.' At first it was depressing to consider this concentrated trove of Hugo memorabilia -- not just of him and his descendants, but even of his taste in books in the volumes he collected and treasured -- dispersed in all its 500 parts in the sale being held April 4 at Christie's Paris. Then I was reminded that there are still places to find concentrations of Hugo -- notably the Victor Hugo House in Paris and the Bibliotheque National Francaise. (For a sampling -- notably of Victor Hugo's artworks -- check the BNF's virtual exposition, Victor Hugo, l'homme ocean. And then I considered that word 'dispersion,' as well as 'partage,' in the sense of 'share.' When I lived in France from 2001 to 2010, every week-end I'd 'chiné' the vide greniers, essentially neighborhood-wide garage sales (vide = empty, greniers = attic). My family considered this junk and accused me of hoarding -- my father even arbitrarily threw out some China with a red-pink pastoral design and dozens of pastis glasses it had taken me years to find -- but for me this was not junk, it was a way into a cultural and societal and even familial history that wasn't mine but that I wanted to adapt and assimilate. The plates, the pastis glasses and carafes (and ashtrays -- I likely had the most ashtrays of anyone who didn't smoke in all of France, bearing the marks of various brands of pastis, gentiane -- made from the wildflowers of the volcanic region of the Auvergne -- and other aperitifs) -- with these in my home I somehow felt more French. Or hoped to.

Lot 26: "Jersey & Guernesey." Two private albums with views of Guernesey and Jersey, and one on Venice. Est. 2,000-3,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

And those were just ashtrays! April 4 at Christie's Paris, at estimated prices some of which are not that much higher than those ashtrays, or at least the China, one can purchase a morsel of the most important literary legacy in modern French history. You know, when you see a painting auctioned off at $15 million, as beautiful as it may be it's hard not to think that anyone who would (and could) spend that much for a painting is valuing it more by its, well, its valuation as investment than for its artistic value and pleasure. But this whole Hugo collection -- 500 pieces -- is estimated at 1 million pounds. So the investment here, I think, is not just that of potential financial value but an investment in French culture and, indeed, Western civilization.

Lot 174: Left: Victor Hugo (1802-1885), "Project for a chimney in the dining room at Hauteville House." Brown wash. 278 x 228 mm. Est. 8,000-12,000 Euros. Right: Lot 161: Victor-Marie Hugo, "Portrait of Léopoldine, profile, or Fracta Juventus." Pencil. 122 x 70 mm. Hugo's daughter was just 19 years old when she passed away in 1843. Est. 2,000-3,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

But before they're dispersed, let's return these souvenirs one last time to the hearth of Jean and Lauretta Hugo in Mas de Fourques, as recalled by their children (in an introduction to the Christie's catalog for the sale), the great-great-grandchildren of the Great Man:

"On winter nights, our father would get a book from the shelves and, seated near the chimney of the large library, a monocle fixed under his eyebrow, read us poems. We'd listen without budging, our big children's eyes posed on him. The verses transported us to shipwrecks, skies, pits, valleys filled up with the songs of birds: 'oceano Nox,' 'Stella,' 'Booz asleep.'

"At the end of the evening, we'd leave the library to return to our rooms, but not before pausing for a long while before Saint Antoine, a painting previously in the black cabinet of Hauteville House. This painting, close to the universe of Bosch, fascinated us. Naked bodies, buttocks in the air, suspended from tree branches, a character emerging from an earthenware jar, a bird with a long beak, a big fish with an arm running on muscled legs, a sort of inverted siren.... Alone in our rooms, our imaginations took flight in our dreams.

"Today, at the dawn of the millenium, the sale dispersing the souvenirs conserved in the family for so many years opens to present generations a day newly illuminated by this past."

Left: Lot 166: Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885), "Veiled profile." Brown wash. 315 x 206 mm. Est. 3,000-5,000 Euros. Right: Lot 159: Victor-Marie Hugo, "Caricature of a Judge Wearing a Hat." Brown wash. Est. 1,500 - 2,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 170: Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885), "Caricatures: Two visages of women." Pen and ink and brown wash. Est. 2,500-3,500 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 175: Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885), "Celui-ci pleurait toujours" (This one is always crying or is still crying). Brush, brown wash. Est. 8,000-12,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 359: Jean Hugo (1894-1984), "Faust Magicien," 1929. 31 painted glass plaques for a magic lantern by Jean Hugo, eight other glass plaques by Jean Hugo, and one other plaque showing the reproduction of a Diane Chasseresse painting. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012. Est. 10,000-15,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 359: Jean Hugo (1894-1984), "Faust Magicien," 1929. 31 painted glass plaques for a magic lantern by Jean Hugo, eight other glass plaques by Jean Hugo, and one other plaque showing the reproduction of a Diane Chasseresse painting. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012. Est. 10,000 - 15,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 389: Jean Hugo (1894-1984), "Mosquito Men," circa 1937. Gouache and watercolor on paper. 1 & 2: 8.2 x 13 cm. 3: 11.8 x 15 cm. Est. 1,000-1,500 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 369: Felix Vallotton (1865-1925), "L'Anarchiste" and "La charge" (pictured above). (Vallaton/Goerg 104; 128.) A set of two woodcuts on wove paper, 1892 and 1893, years when anarchism was in vogue in France. As with all pieces described on this page, parties should read full lot descriptions and any condition report. Est. 800-1200 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 371: Henri Riviere (1864-1951), "Le Lavoir au Haut-Trestraou," 1891. Woodcut in colors with hand-coloring. 24 x 35.6 cm. Like some other Impressionists and post-Impressionists, Riviere was known for emulating the style of Japanese prints. Est. 500-700 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 372 Felix Vallotton (1865-1925), "La Mer," 1893. (VallotonGoerg 112.) Woodcut, signed in pencil. Est. 800-1,200. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Left: Lot 315: Valentine Hugo (1890-1968), Tamara Karsavina in "The Fire Bird." Pastel on blue paper. 24.6 x 13 cm. Est. 1,500-2,000 Euros. Right: Lot 311 Valentine Hugo (1890-1968), Tamara Karsavina in "The Golden Rooster." Charcoal on tracing paper. 31 x 22 cm. Est. 300 - 500 Euros. Both images ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Left: Lot 307: Valentine Hugo (1890-1968), "Nine studies of dancers for Karsavina and Nijinsky." Pencil on tracing paper. 38 x 27 cm. Est. 600-800 Euros. Right: Lot 306: Valentine Hugo (1890-1968), "Four studies for Nijinsky." Pencil and colored crayon on paper. Largest piece 27 x 21 cm. Est. 600-800 Euros. Both images ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 309: Valentine Hugo (1890-1968). Study for "Les Sylphides." Pencil on tracing paper. Jean Hugo's first wife, Valentine was renowned for her sketches of Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky, and the Ballets Russes. Est. 300-500 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Left: Lot 338: Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), "Portrait of Georges Auric." Pen, India Ink, and watercolor on paper. 16 x 11 cm. Never mind the impression you might have that one has to be a big spender to collect art by masters; this one is est. pre-sale at just 100-150 Euros. Imagine! To be able to own for that little a Cocteau, and one depicting Georges Auric, who composed the music for Cocteau's signature films "The Blood of a Poet," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Orpheus," as well as John Huston's "Moulin Rouge," Max Ophuls's "Lola Montes," and Jean Delannoy's "Notre-Dame de Paris." RIght: Lot 334: Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), "Le Centaure et les femmes." Pencil on paper. 29 x 23 cm. Est. 1,000-1,500 Euros. Both images ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Lot 332: Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), "The Chess Match, Jean Hugo and Pierre Colle." India ink on paper. 32 x 21 cm. Est. 2,000-3,000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

Left: Lot 357: Jean Hugo (1894-1984), "Study for a tapestry intended for a fire screen for the Vicount de Noailles," dated and inscribed on the reverse, 1929. Gouache on paper. 20.5 x 18 cm. Right: Lot 388A: Jean Hugo (1894-1984), "Three characters for 'Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel,' play by Jean Cocteau." Three pieces. Above piece titled 'A Director' at lower right. Gouache on paper. 29.5 x 22 cm. Est. 5,000-7.000 Euros. ©Christie's Images Ltd. 2012.

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