Blots with fingerprints, 1864-1865 Sepia ink and wash on paper
26 x 19.5cm Bibliothèque Nationale de France


Ruins of a Town, end of 1854-1855 Pen, brush, sepia ink and wash, charcoak, graphite pencil, gouache and pochoir on paper 34.6 x 25.3cm Paris, Maison Victor Hugo


Silhouette of a Castle with three Towers, 1855 Pochoir, charcoal 11.5 x 14.5cm Bibliothèque Nationale de France


Tower, c.1855 Sepia ink and wash, chalk, oil pastel and pochoir on paper 16.5 x 10cm Private Collection


Lace Print, end of 1855-1856 Charcoal, ink, wax on paper
17.2 x 25.6cm
Private Collection

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.

Like Goya, Victor Hugo was a visionary painter, a defendant of liberty and of innovation. The exhibition is focused on that particular facet of his work in which he is revealed as a precursor of modern art, and a man ahead of his time. Although working in the middle of the nineteenth century, Hugo invented and used a number of processes which until now have been considered twentieth-century innovations, such as pochoir, frottage, grattage, the various Surrealist printing techniques, even abstraction and Informalism.

The exhibition opens the earliest drawings dating from 1825 consisting of some rather child-like caricatures inspired by shadows on the walls, cloud formations and the folds in his clothing, and ends with his late abstract Blot drawings which are dated to the 1870s.

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".


Exhibition information

Title: Victor Hugo, Drawings: "Chaos in the brush..."
Dates: 2 June to 10 September 2000
Organisor: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, The Maison de Victor Hugo and The Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Curator: Marie-Laure Prévost and Jean-Jacques Lebel
Co-ordination: Paloma Alarcó, Curator of Modern Paintings of the Thyssen - Bornemisza Museum

Venue: Temporary Exhibition Rooms. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 19.00. Ticket office closes at 18.30. Open all day Sundays. Closed Mondays

Entrance charges: Temporary Exhibition: 500 ptas Reduced price: 300 ptas (students and visitors aged over 65 with proof of status) Temporary Exhibition and Permanent Collection: 900 ptas; Reduced price: 500 ptas; (students and visitors aged over 65 with proof of status)