This year, the City of Light honours the lives and legacies of Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Oscar Wilde in superb individual exhibits.
Everyone in the Western world who has made it past eighth grade in school, has read at least one of their works or seen their stage plays: Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, and Oscar Wilde, three of the 19th century’s greatest luminaries. Their influence on Paris’ reputation as the world capital of literature is now showcased in three separate exhibits that let visitors peek behind the curtain and into the family lives of these three extraordinary men.
Les Hugo, Une Famille d’Artistes (The Hugos, A Family of Artists)
Maison de Victor Hugo, through 18 September 2016
That Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) was a great, timeless writer and engaged politician, is nothing new. The themes he visited in his oeuvres – including Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, or Angelo Tyran de Padoue – are as pertinent today as they were at the time he wrote them, speaking as they did of social ills and misfits, and pointing the finger at injustice and the hunger for power at all cost. Lesser known is the fact that he was also a prolific and reputable sketch artist and designer who produced over 4,000 drawings. But very few people realize that he is not the only talented artist in the Hugo family but there are five generations of them.
Set in the intimacy of the family apartment in the heart of Paris, this exhibit pays tribute to these lesser known sides of the Hugo family story and the extensive body of artwork that has strung from it over the course of a century and a half. Personal objects, letters, drawings, paintings, photos, and books give insight into the work and legacy of a family who between their famous ancestors and right down to his descendants today have contributed tremendously to the artistic life of Paris.
Maison de Victor Hugo
6, place des Vosges
Phone + 33 1 42 72 10 16
Opening hours: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm except Monday and public holidays
Admission: €8 (discounted rate €6)
Honoré de Balzac – Entre Mythe et Réalite (Between Myth and Reality)
Maison de Balzac, through 2 October 2016
The author of La Comédie Humaine, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature, whose characters are complex, morally ambiguous and thoroughly human. Even inanimate objects and places such as the city of Paris take on human qualities. He inspired generations of authors after him, as diverse as Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, Henry James, or Friedrich Engels.
The exhibit dedicated to him is set in his study, and through it we discover his friendships and relationships with other artists, likes and dislikes, and the creative forces which in return influenced him … Alphonse de Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, George Sand, Alfred de Musset or Franz Liszt. We can imagine him sitting at his desk at night, hunched over a sheet of paper which he feverishly fills with words. We also find a collection of portraits of him, ranging from contemporaneous to modern ones, and learn to see this original, sharp-witted writer through the eyes of his friends and those who were inspired by him throughout the years. Occasional special events and conferences on the topic of Balzac’s life and work are scheduled throughout the duration of the exhibit, see the website for details:
Maison de Balzac
47, rue Raynouard
Phone + 33 1 55 74 41 80
Opening Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 6 pm, closed on Mondays and holidays
Admission: €5 (discount rate €3.50)
Oscar Wilde: L’Impertinent Absolu (Insolence Incarnate)
28 September 2016 – 15 January 2017
Although a native Dubliner, Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) was an ardent Francophile who spoke and wrote fluent French. He started out as a journalist in London and a lecturer in the United States, and his flamboyant behavior and wardrobe soon made him the poster boy for aestheticism. His works, like The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Salome were representative of his wit and love for satire but – possibly influenced by his friend Victor Hugo – also carried clear themes of social critique, decadence and duplicity. While he became quite successful, his life was marked by great personal drama. After an extended period in prison and hard labour camp for his homosexuality, he turned his back on his home for good and settled in Paris where he spent the last years of his life until he died, destitute, at only 46 years of age. His grave in the Père Lachaise cemetery is still a pilgrimage site for fans and those who feel they have no place in bourgeois society, like he used to.
The display at the Petit Palais is the first of its kind in France to honour the formidable Irish author and his enormous literary legacy by featuring almost 200 artifacts, including manuscripts, photographs, paintings and personal effects from public and private collections worldwide. Another key element of the exhibition are extracts from video material; interviews with his grandson (and co-curator) Merlin Holland who lives in France; Robert Badinter, the author of a play about Wilde’s trial and incarceration prior to his self-exile; and recorded readings from his work by English actor Rupert Everett.
Petit Palais, Fine Art Museum
2 avenue Winston Churchill
Phone + 33 1 53 43 40 00
Opening hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm, and until 9 pm on Fridays.
Admission: €10 (reduced rate: €7)
Inspirational exhibits and intimate peeks into the lives of three of the most influential writers of their time…. a rare rendezvous with colourful personalities absolutely not to be missed.
Lead image © Felipe Dolce; Balzac poster courtesy Mairie de Paris; Oscar Wilde photo © Le Petit Palais