Guernsey Press

Hugo’s great-great-grandson wowed by ‘extraordinary’ Hauteville House restoration

Victor Hugo’s great-great-grandson has returned to the island to photograph restorations made to his ancestor’s island home.

John-Baptiste Hugo, Victor Hugo’s great-great grandson at Hauteville House. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 33148702)

Jean-Baptiste Hugo, 71, is an internationally-recognised artist and photographer and is spending the week in Guernsey where his great-great-grandfather was exiled for 15 years.

He previously visited in 2015 and 2016 to create a series of photographs of the house before restoration and will be doing the same again to show the transformation through pictures.

‘I think the work that has been done is extraordinary, they found experienced craftsmen who were able to recreate things from a photograph,’ he said.

‘When my ancestor finished the house in 1862, he called a republican photographer who came to visit him when he was in Jersey.

‘The photographer was from Normandy and Victor Hugo called him and asked him to do a reportage on the house, so he knew that he had made something very special.

‘From the photographs of 1862, one of the craftsmen said that he could recreate things from the photograph.’

Victor Hugo acquired Hauteville House in 1856 with proceeds from the sale of his collection of poems, Les Contemplations.

The house was donated to the City of Paris in 1927.

Mr Hugo said that his family still had some items from Victor Hugo, but in his will he stipulated that everything by hand, written or graphic, would belong to the Bibliotheque Nationale.

‘It feels a bit like the family home really, the family seat, because there is a gallery of all of my ancestors, compared to the museum in Paris which was created in 1902,’ he said.

‘It’s very special and very precious to have this house as Victor Hugo made it.’

Within his photography, Mr Hugo will be focusing on some particular details, such as the wallpaper in the hallway.

He said that Victor Hugo wrote down details of everything, including the places he bought things, so they were able to find the company in the north of France who made the original wallpaper.

The company’s archives included samples of that wallpaper, which meant it could be recreated exactly.

Mr Hugo said that returning to the island and visiting the house of his family inspired his creativity.

‘You can always create as long as you have material.

‘As a photographer, if you have a face in front of you, you can do something big, but you need to start with something,’ he said.

‘The pictures I’ll be taking are a great example of transformation.’

Mr Hugo said that he loved how the island embraced the memory of his ancestor, such as the Victor Hugo bench, and enjoyed hearing stories of people decorating it with a pumpkin head for Halloween and a Christmas hat.