Lot 139
  • 139

Victor Hugo

15,000 - 20,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Victor Hugo
  • Rouliers dans l'orage
  • signed Victor Hugo (lower left)
  • pen and ink and ink wash heightened with gouache on paper
  • 3 by 14.3cm., 1¼ by 5⅝in.


Auguste Vacquerie, Paris
Galerie du Lethé, Paris
Acquired from the above by the late owner in February 1988


New York, Jan Krugier Gallery & Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Victor Hugo and The Romantic Vision, Drawings and Watercolors, 1990-91, no. 21, illustrated (dated circa 1854-55)
New York, The Drawing Center, Shadows of a Hand, The Drawings of Victor Hugo, 1998, no. 10, illustrated in the catalogue (dated circa 1854-55)
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Miradas sin Tiempo. Dibujos, Pinturas y Esculturas de la Coleccion Jan y Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, 2000, no. 114, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Bad Homburg, Sinclair-Haus, Schichten der Nacht. Arnulf Rainer - Victor Hugo, 2001, no. 112, illustrated in colour in the catalogue


Linie, Licht und Schatten, Meisterzeichnungen und Skulpturen der Sammlung Jan und Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, (exhibition catalogue), Berlin, 1999, illustrated p. 405
The Timeless Eye. Master Drawings from the Jan and Marie-Anne Krugier-Poniatowski Collection, (exhibition catalogue), Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, 1999, illustrated p. 404


The sheet has been laid down onto the mount. Apart from a faint circa 1 by 1cm drop mark in the upper-left corner and a minor circa 0.5cm vertical repair at the lower edge approximately a third of the way along from the left edge, this work is in good condition. Held in a simple polished wood frame, the edges of the sheet visible and not covered by the mat, under glass.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Five Works by Victor Hugo: Lots 135-139

Il excelle à mêler dans les fantaisies sombres et farouches, les effets du clair-obscur de Goya à la terreur architectonique de Piranèse.
Théophile Gautier

In addition to his vast literary output Hugo produced around four thousand works on paper. His subjects were inspired by his travels, by his vivid imagination, and by the elements of chance that felicitously enabled him to create a world in miniature shrouded in mystery, that might emerge from a chance ink blot, a random scribble of lines or even took form in an unruly splash of coffee.

As well as having parallels with the work of such artists as Piranesi and Goya, Hugo's medium and moody - often cataclysmic - subject matter find their precursors in the spot paintings of an artist such as Alexander Cozens at the end of the 18th century, or the drama of John Martin's work in the 19th century. As for those who came later, three years after Hugo's death in 1888, an exhibition of his works on paper was held at the Bibliothèque Nationale. The show proved to be a revelation to a younger generation of painters. Van Gogh was one of them; he described Hugo's creations as 'astonishing things'. Another who would not have failed to be fascinated by them was fellow writer, polemicist and painter, Swede August Strindberg. Of the many who revered Hugo's works in the twentieth century it was the Surrealists who most treasured the artist's interest in developing his vision of a fantastic inner world guided as it was so often by chance and happenstance.  

The five works by Hugo from the Krugier collection (lots 135 to 139) range across a period of almost thirty years, and show off his quintessentially atmospheric interpretation of the world around him to optimum effect. Hugo was both most prolific and most expressive during the lulls in his writing, including certain periods during his time in exile on the Channel Islands from 1853-70.

Executed soon after he moved to Jersey, La Planète (lot 135) represents an outpouring of repressed creativity, and Hugo's metaphysical vision. Inspired no doubt in part by his new surroundings, especially the island's low horizon lines and huge skies, he creates a mysterious image, calm like the stillness of a dream, but also with an atmosphere of great tension and foreboding. The fluid strokes of ink give the mighty celestial orb a sense of weightlessness and transience, as though it could dissolve in an instant into sepia wash. According to Hugo's great-grandson, the artist and illustrator Jean Hugo, it was the poet Paul Éluard who titled the work La Planète.

The work is markedly different to earlier more literal works such as Rouliers dans l'orage (lot 139) of 1838 which he executed largely before he had journeyed far beyond French borders, or even Le Vieux pont (lot 137) of ten years later which was completed following both his transformative sojourn along the Rhine in 1840 and his travels through the Pyrenees and Spain three years later.

The smallest of the Krugier Hugos - Paysage of 1856-58 (lot 136), takes the same form, (albeit on a smaller scale), to the annual New Year's Day visiting cards that he was wont to send to various friends, with the letters of his name spread out distinctively, and in dramatic fashion, across the composition.

In the latest work of the five being offered, Le Burg of 1866 (lot 138) takes up a theme - the chivalry and romance of the castle, and its place in history - that lies at the very heart of Hugo's aesthetic. The subject had come to dominate Hugo's œuvre after his 1840 Rhenish trip, and - whether based on real castles and battlements in Germany, Belgium, France or the Channel Islands, or as purely figments of the artist's imagination - his constant reinterpretation of its form came to articulate his Romantic vision for the rest of his life, and remains to this day the motif that best evokes Hugo's unique contribution to the visual arts of the period.