• gerard van weyenbergh

Victor Hugo saw the "Black Light", last words

Victor Hugo was a great writer; he was also a talented designer and painter. Hugo dipped his pen and the brush in black ink, to paint and tell the world as it appeared to him: violently contrasted, in chiaroscuro.

For this program, we welcome Annie Le Brun, writer, poet, literary critic, and curator, author in particular of Les arcs-en-ciel du noir: Victor Hugo (Gallimard, 2012).

In a way, with her, the hidden face of Victor Hugo is revealed to us. Annie Le Brun sees in the author of Les Rayons et les Ombres a prevalence of black, both in writing and in drawing. It is generally less known, but Victor Hugo assiduously practiced drawing and watercolor, sometimes even illustrating his literary works.

This work around drawings led me to see that there is no difference at all between what he makes happen when he writes and what he makes happen when he draws. (Annie Le Brun)

Besides the plastic interest that this color seems to have in the eyes of the designer Hugo, black also has a strong metaphorical value for the writer.

For him, thought is inextricably linked to black, to the sense of darkness, to this almost existential feeling. It only exists through this awareness of darkness. There is this most striking phrase in William Shakespeare: "He who meditates lives in darkness; he who does not meditate lives in blindness. We only have the choice of black. »(Annie Le Brun)

Black is the color of interiority, whose depths are shrouded in darkness, or that of death, suddenly appeared to the young Victor Hugo. The latter, at the age of 9, witnesses the execution of a condemned man in Spain. Again, the shadows of war carry its share of deaths, the darkness of mourning when, with the tragic death of Léopoldine, day turns to night, or else the moral darkness of Han d'Islande Claude Frollo and his creature, Quasimodo.

He saw a war as a child with all that could be terrifying for him. And then, very early, was haunted by madness. (Annie Le Brun)

But if the most obscure of colors is omnipresent in Hugo's work, it is often related to its opposite. Besides the shadows, the work of Hugo also has its rays. The contrast thus allows Hugo to tell History and men, their sorrows and their joys, their moral abysses, as well as their sublime acts.

What is fascinating about him is that as much he has this awareness, so intense, of the darkness that inhabits us, he is a diver who goes to the bottom and who always has this energy, which makes it go up.

Victor Hugo was perhaps, above all, a painter of chiaroscuro, the most distinct, the most violent chiaroscuro there is. An artist who, those would have been his last words before dying, saw "black light." https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/la-compagnie-des-oeuvres/le-noir-est-une-couleur-24-l-escalier-tenebres-de-victor-hugo


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