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Victor Hugo.

The other day I got to thinking about writing, or more specifically why
for the longest time now I haven't written any new fiction. Not a person
who believes in that thing called "writer's block," I attribute such
inactivity to simply the lack of will to do it. Why I don't seem to have
that will is another thing. And I really don't know exactly why or how I
seem to have lost the motivation.

Thinking about all that reminded me of a story I heard many years back.
Evidently the great realist writer Victor Hugo, when he couldn't seem to
write, would have all his clothes taken away. Left totally naked going
out of the house was of course impossible. Hugo was then left with only
a table, some paper, and his pen. Evidently this worked to free up his
imagination and would focus him on the writing.

Victor Hugo nude. Not a very pleasant thought perhaps for some people.
Except for sculptor Auguste Rodin, who in 1889 was commissioned to
create a statue of Hugo by the French government to be placed in the
Pantheon.


Rodin, Etudes Pour de la Tête de Victor Hugo.
Drypoint drawing.

Rodin met Hugo in 1883, two years before the writer's death. His intent
then was to fulfill a commission for a bronze bust of Hugo. But Hugo was
not interested in posing for Rodin, as a consequence of which Rodin was
forced to grab sketches of Hugo as he could, on-the-fly. By the time
Rodin started working on the large Pantheon commission, he had a
substantial number of drawings to work from. His original idea was to
portray Hugo in a classical manner in a large work, reclining on a rock
symbolizing the Island of Guernsey, where Hugo had lived in exile from
1851 to 1870 due to his political views. The monument was also to have
Hugo surrounded by three muses representing the author's youth, maturity,
and old age. And, as it formed itself in Rodin's imagination, in the nude.
The portrayal of a contemporary figure in the classical way was quite
daring in those years. Nevertheless Rodin proceeded to cast a plaster
version of the monument. This version was rejected by the government,
who did not like the horizontal orientation of the sculpture. Or so
they claimed.


Rodin, The Apotheosis de Victor Hugo. 1891, bronze.

Rodin put his original idea aside a bit and began to work on a more
vertical style monument, this time with the author fully clothed.
Nevertheless Rodin did not give up totally on his original idea and two
of the three original muses are portrayed on the sculpture. This
version, titled The Apotheosis de Victor Hugo, was finished in 1891.
A bronze cast of the original maquette was later done and is now in
the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Rodin, Victor Hugo. 1901 version, marble.

Though momentarily distracted by the Apotheosis, Rodin never
quite gave up on his idea of the horizontal version with the nude Victor
Hugo. And in fact between 1890 and his death in 1917 the sculpture was
to go through several different versions. A finished, marble version was
completed in 1901. This version features no muses, only the reclining
Hugo, and tends to seem on hindsight a shadow of the original idea.
Lastly, the 1897 version of the work featuring two muses was cast in
bronze, one in 1964 and one in 1986.


Rodin, Victor Hugo. Later cast of
1897 version, bronze.

Ah, if only that were the end of it. In the late 1970s artist Andy
Warhol, going through a period that was rather decadent even for him,
was taking photographs or making videos of virtually everybody he came
across. One of these acquaintances was Victor Hugo, sometime boyfriend
of designer Roy Halston and like many others a hanger-on at The Factory.
Warhol did a set of blatantly sexual shots of Hugo. One photo, a torso
shot, if you stretch your imagination a bit, has a slightly classical pose
to it. Whether Warhol knew of Rodin's work on the Hugo monuments is not
known to me. But I would think it unlikely that a serious artist like
Warhol would not have known Rodin's work.

So is this the Apotheosis of the Gay Victor Hugo? Well, who knows.


Andy Warhol, Nude Model (Victor Hugo). 1977, polaroid.

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