Toledo Museum Home

Prints and Authors in the Time of Manet

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon)
French, 1820–1910

Victor Hugo on his Deathbed

Albumen silver print, 1885
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1988.96

Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was a French writer responsible for such iconic works as The Hunchback of Nôtre-Dame and Les Misérables. Though best known for his novels, plays, and poems, in the latter part of his life, Hugo became more involved with politics. Initially a conservative and monarchist, Hugo eventually became a far-left supporter of social justice and Republican government.
When Louis-Napoléon took power in 1851, Hugo feared for his life due to his public opposition to the new ruler’s authoritarianism. He fled Paris, eventually settling on the British island of Guernsey in the English Channel, where he spent the next 15 years. With the creation of the Third Republic in 1871, Hugo returned to Paris where he died a national hero on May 22, 1885 and was buried in the Panthéon.
Pioneering French photographer Nadar, who photographed Hugo several times during the writer’s life, captured this final image of him on his deathbed. By 1885 Nadar had turned over the photography business to his son Paul; this was one of the few photographs Nadar actually made himself after 1870.