Jean Hugo was the great-grandson of Victor Hugo. He was self-taught, and studied literature before devoting himself to painting. He related his experiences in World War I in The Perspective of Memory ( Le Regard de la mémoire). After the war he associated himself with Cocteau, Radiguet, the composers known as Group of Six ( Groupe des Six), as well as Satie, Max Jacob, Picasso, Diaghilev and Stravinsky. He was married to Valentine Gross. From the 1920s he turned towards religion, and in 1929 he retreated to Mas de Fourques, near Lunel. He became particularly known for his stagings of Victor Hugo's dramas. He had a romantic temperament, and was most at home with gouache, quicker to dry than oil, and thus more apt for capturing fleeting inspiration, and a more substantial medium than watercolour. He was able to adapt medieval and romantic sources to a more contemporary treatment. It was by means of this somewhat Baroque side of his imagination that he often brushed with Surrealism, as is evidenced in his humorous, strange costume and set designs which he conceived in 1921 for Wedding on the Eiffel Tower ( Mariés de la Tour Eiffel) by Jean Cocteau. The latter was a production of the Swedish Ballet, for which he developed a whole comical series of '1900' characters, such as cyclists and bathers. He also designed for the ballet-pantomime Romeo and Juliet, mounted in 1924, by the company, Paris Evenings ( Soirées de Paris). Both productions were conceived by Jean Cocteau. Hugo then withdrew to the Midi region, where he painted still-lifes, and gouache landscapes in lively tones of the Languedoc, England, Paris and Russia. He was also an imaginative illustrator, some of his compositions including Cheeks on Fire ( Les Joues en feu) by Raymond Radiguet; Wedding on the Eiffel Tower ( Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel) by Jean Cocteau and Climates ( Climats) by André Maurois, one of his strangest illustrative works. He also illustrated many other works, such as those of Max Jacob, Péguy, René Char and Pierre-André Benoît.
In 1994, a collection of his works was shown at the Musée-bibliothèque Pierre-André Benoît in Alès. In 1995, the Musée National de la Coopération Franco-Américaine organised an exhibition at the Château de Blérancourt in Chauny of drawings executed at the front during World War I. A retrospective of his work was shown at the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris in 1995, and another was presented at the Musée Fabre de Montpellier in the same year.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Montpellier (Mus. Fabre): Eater of the Striped Sweater (Self-portrait) (1940, oil on canvas); The Beaulieu Quarries (1953, oil on card); Soulatgets (1972, oil on canvas); The Imposter (1931, tempera/wood); La Baie des Trépassés (Tréboul, Brittany) (1931, oil on wood)