The Musée Victor Hugo Buys a Canvas by Dagnan-Bouveret

Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouveret (1852-1929)
Aimons toujours ! Aimons encore !
Illustration for Contemplations by Victor Hugo
Oil on canvas glued on cardboard - 27 x 21.4 cm
Paris, Maison Victor-Hugo
Photo : Galerie Albert Duchemin

3/2/14 - Acquisition - Paris, Maison Victor Hugo - "I prefer, rather than the things which flatter/ The pride of soldiers or kings/The shadow cast by you on my book/When your forehead bends over me" [1]". The Maison Victor Hugo recently acquired a canvas, from the Hubert Duchemin gallery in Paris, by Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouveret (around 1886) illustrating a poem from Contemplations : "Aimons toujours ! Aimons encore". Entitled "L’Ame en fleur" [The Flowering Soul], the second book in the first volume of this famous collection, is dedicated to the theme of love and inspired essentially by Juliette Drouet.
The painter depicts a man sitting at his desk, holding a pen, interrupted at his work by a woman standing alongside who is tenderly embracing him and on whom he leans his head. Their faces are outlined by the shaded light coming from the lamp in the foreground. As pointed out in the gallery’s entry, this painting is a forerunner of Emile Friant’s Cast Shadows, exhibited at the Salon of 1891 and acquired in 2008 by the Musée d’Orsay.
Dagnan-Bouveret has painted a grisaille, more precisely in variations of browns and ochres as his canvas was to be used as a model for an engraving, produced by Mongin. Although Hugo refused to have his original editions illustrated, he accepted it for the following ones. Thus in 1886, J. Lemonnyer and Emile Testard published a luxury edition of Contemplations : this posthumous version appeared in one thousand numbered copies illustrated with etchings but separated from the text.
The collection of Contemplations was published in 156 when the writer was living in Guernsey and is closely associated to the passing of his daughter Léopoldine in 1843. It contains 156 poems written mainly between 1841 and 1855, falling into two large groups, "Autrefois" [Before] (1830-1846) and "Aujourd’hui" [Today] (1843-1855), each divided into three books : first of all "Aurore", "L’Ame en fleur", "Les Luttes et les rêves" [Battles and Dreams], then "Pauca Meae", "En marche"[In Action] and "Au bord de l’infini" [Looking at Infinity].
The illustrations of the poems in the first volume were commissioned from Dagan-Bouveret - who had worked in the studios of Cabanel then Gérôme, received the Second Prix de Rome in 1876, known for his rural scenes and Breton canvases - as well as Louis Français [2], Ernest Duez [3], Gustave Courtois [4] and Louis Deschamps [5] while the second tome is illustrated with prints by Adrien Moreau, André Brouillet [6], Emile Lévy [7], Raphaël Collin [8] and Tony Robert-Fleury [9]
The Maison Victor Hugo had staged an exhibition on Contemplations in 2012-2013 [10] while another one, planned between 7 June and 2 November 2014 will present grisailles inspired by the writer, such as La Conscience by François-Nicolas Chifflart and Titan by Cabanel. But the painters did not just illustrate Hugo’s writings, many drew freely from his work to create other paintings such as Cormon and his famous Cain.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 3 février 2014


[1] Je préfère, aux biens dont s’énivre,/ L’orgueil du soldat ou du roi,/ L’ombre que tu fais sur mon livre,/ Quand ton front se penche sur moi

[2] Louis Français produced a watercolor for the poem Vere Novo.

[3] Ernest Duez produced a painting to illustrate the poem Les Oiseaux.

[4] Gustave Courtois drew the poem "Jeune fille, la grâce emplit tes dix-sept ans, Ton regard dit : matin, et ton front dit : printemps" [Young maiden, grace fills your seventeen years, Your eyes say : morning, and your brow says : spring].

[5] Louis Deschamps produced a drawing for the poem Chose vue un jour de printemps..[Something seen on a spring day..].

[6] André Brouillet painted a canvas for the poem Pasteurs et troupeaux [Shepherds and Herds].

[7] Emile Lévy executed a drawing for the poem Les Malheureux[The Unhappy Ones].

[8] Raphaël Collin produced a drawing for the poem Eclaircie [A Break in the Clouds].

[9] Tony Robert-Fleury produced a drawing for the poem A celle qui est restée en France [To She who Stayed in France].

[10] Paris, Maison Victor Hugo, Les Contemplations, un hymne à l’au-delà, from 2 October 2012 to 20 January 2013.

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