Victor Hugo on His Deathbed
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Nadar, photographer; Paul Nadar , printer
French, negative 1885, print 1920s

7 3/8 x 9 5/8 in.

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When the poet, playwright, and novelist Victor Hugo died in 1885, Nadar went to his deathbed to make a final image as a memorial of the great man. Nadar's sketch of the death chamber showed that black drapery was tied across a window behind the bed and then to one of the bedposts in order to visually isolate Hugo's recumbent figure against a somber background. For the photograph, a mirror reflected light back from the window to provide detail in the shadow area.

During the 1800s, Hugo was thought to be France's greatest writer. He began to write while still a schoolboy, and his poetry was first published at twenty. His wildly popular novels soon followed. Hugo's troubled personal life, however, stood in sharp contrast to his successful career. His wife was conspicuously in love with another man, his favorite daughter drowned, and another went mad. A talented amateur artist, he was interested in photography and once contemplated illustrating a book of his poems with photographic negatives. By the time of his death, Hugo was revered: his body lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe, and he was buried in the Panthéon. Paul Nadar made this print in the 1920s from his father's negative of 1885.