Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917)
Victor Hugo, known as the Bust to the Illustrious Master
H. 48.5 cm ; W. 29 cm ; D. 30.5 cm
Gift of Rodin to Hugo. Acquired from Marguerite Hugo, the sitter’s great-granddaughter, 1928, through David David-Weill.
In 1883, the journalist Edmond Bazire advised Rodin to make a portrait of a famous man to help establish his own reputation. He introduced the sculptor to Victor Hugo, who refused to pose at sittings, but invited Rodin into his home on the Avenue d’Eylau and allowed him to make a few drawings of him while he was eating or having his afternoon sleep.
Rodin made sketches of the poet’s head from different standpoints on the palm on his hand or on cigarette papers, before rushing out to the veranda, where he set up his sculptor’s turntable in order to reproduce in clay what he had hastily jotted down. The technique of drawing from memory, which he had learnt from Lecoq de Boisbaudran, proved very useful.
The portrait was completed in 1883, two years before Hugo died. Rodin, who had always admired poets like Dante and Baudelaire , inscribed À l’illustre maître on the lower neck, as if paying him a final tribute. He later reworked the bust to produce a more refined version, cut off below the frock coat’s lapel, and without the base.