Why to Visit the Victor Hugo House in Paris: An Inside Look

(Last Updated On: October 6, 2020)
The "salon rouge" (red sitting room) at the Victor Hugo House in Paris/Courtesy of the museum
The “salon chinois” (Chinese room) at the Victor Hugo House in Paris/Courtesy of the museum

Victor Hugo is a French writer whose presence continues to loom large in the city he called home for much of his life. Best known for his 1829 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame— which not only popularized the cathedral for a new generation during the nineteenth century and made it a global icon, but cemented Hugo’s reputation as an advocate for poor and marginalized members of society– the writer’s life and work is spotlighted at a small, often overlooked museum.

Situated in a corner residence at 6, Place des Vosges, on one of the capital’s most opulent squares, the Victor Hugo House in Paris (Maison Victor Hugo) is well worth visiting, particularly if you’re interested in literary and cultural history in the capital.

A room at the Maison Victor Hugo/Victor Hugo House/Paris Tourist Office/Image by Benoit-Fougeirol
A room at the Maison Victor Hugo/Victor Hugo House/Paris Tourist Office/Image by Benoit-Fougeirol

Hugo lived here between 1832 and 1848 with his family, in a part of the Place des Vosges (then called the Place Royale) known as the Hôtel de Rohan Guéménée. (Note: somewhat confusingly, this doesn’t refer to a hotel, but to a private mansion).

There, he composed some of his most acclaimed literary works, including Les Misérables, and spent hours entertaining and debating literary contemporaries such as poet Alfred de Vigny and Alexandre Dumas.

Opened in 1903 and recently renovated, the museum includes a fascinating collection of Hugo’s personal artifacts, furniture, manuscripts, some 500 letters, and photographs, offering an intimate glimpse into the author’s inner life and intellectual exchanges

The permanent exhibition is free for all, making it an ideal destination for travelers on limited budgets.

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Keep reading to learn why the Victor Hugo House is worth reserving a couple of hours for on your next visit to Paris, irrespective of whether you’ve picked up one of his books yet.

Highlights Within the Permanent Collection

Salon Chinois, Maison Victor Hugo, Paris. Image by Vassil/Creative Commons
Salon Chinois, Maison Victor Hugo, Paris. Image by Vassil/Creative Commons

The permanent exhibition at the Victor Hugo House gives visitors a compelling glimpse back at the author’s daily life, from working spaces to more intimate spaces.

The museum’s thematic rooms are filled with furniture (some crafted by Hugo himself), paintings, ceramics, sculptures, manuscripts, letters, and other valuable items from the author’s personal collection.

According to the museum’s website, the curators envisioned the exhibition as a chronological journey through Hugo’s turbulent life, organizing it chronologically across three main periods: “before exile”, “exile” and “after exile”. 

French novelist Victor Hugo  by Etienne Carjat, circa 1876. Public domain
Victor Hugo by Etienne Carjat, circa 1876. Public domain

Why exile, you may ask? Hugo was a passionate and vocal political dissident who opposed a violent coup by Louis Napoléon (Napoléon III) in 1851, who installed himself as Emperor on the basis of an antidemocratic constitution.

Hugo called him a traitor– and you can only guess that he fell out of favor with the new Emperor. He fled France for Brussels and later the island of Guernsey, where he resided in exile from October 155 to 1870.

In light of the author’s politically “vivid” biography, each room of the museum plunges us into a different period and/or aspect of his life and work.

The Antechamber offers insight into the author’s childhood and young adult years, displaying a variety of family portraits. Historic photos and paintings depict his brothers, sisters, wife Adèle Hugo (née Foucher) and other family members.

Next, you’re shuttled into the Red Lounge (salon rouge), so called because it’s lavishly decorated in red damask.

Image: Maison Victor Hugo/Roger Viollet
Image: Maison Victor Hugo/Roger Viollet

The room is designed to evoke the Romantic era in French literature and art, and the atmosphere that might have reigned in the apartments during Hugo’s time– when prominent writers from Lamartine to Mérimée and Dumas popped by for a visit and a chat. More portraits of family members, friends, and contemporaries are displayed here, as well as a marble bust depicting Hugo.

Moving into the Chinese lounge (shown above), the room reconstructs decor created by Hugo himself at Hauteville Fairy, the house of his mistress Juliette Drouet in Guernsey, where he lived for a period during his exile.

Asian-style panels, paintings, furniture, and porcelain hangs delicately in the room, reminding us that Hugo was a talented and attentive designer as well as a probing observer of the human condition.

Next, the Dining room displays Gothic-style furnishings, many of which were originally held at Juliette Drouets house in Guernsey.

Some of the furnishings in the room, including antique chests and tables, were dismantled and reassembled by Hugo to align with his aesthetic preferences, in collaboration with a team of carpenters. Chests were made into benches, or doors into tables, according to the writer’s eccentric whims.

In the small study, visitors can admire various artefacts and documents related to Hugo and his conptemporaries- from photos to letters and manuscripts– that are not on permanent display at the museum.

The former study, also known as the Return from Exile room, is perhaps the house’s most emotionally stirring and compelling. In the room that once served as the writer’s study, works of art depict the author in his latter, post-exile years.

The author's former study at the Maison Victor Hugo
The author’s former study at the Maison Victor Hugo

Auguste Rodin’s “Heroic Bust” of Hugo is especially moving, as is a portrait of Juliette Drouet from Bastien-Lapage, and created just a few months before she passed away.

Auguste Rodin, Heroic Bust of Victor Hugo, 1908. Victor Hugo House, Paris.
Auguste Rodin, Heroic Bust of Victor Hugo, 1908. Victor Hugo House, Paris.

Finally, the Bedroom recreates the room of the same name in Hugo’s former house at 130 Avenue d’Eylau in Paris, the 16th-arrondissement residence where the author spent his final years.

Among the furnishings displayed in this last room is Hugo’s famous standing desk, where he often composed his works, and the bed in which he passed away in 1885.

For more information and details on the holdings of the permanent exhibit, see this page at the official website.

Location and Practical Information

place des vosges
The Victor Hugo house is located in one of the hotels particuliers (mansions) of the elegant Place des Vosges

The Maison de Victor Hugo is located in the author’s former apartments on the Place des Vosges in the 4th district of Paris , in the heart of the Marais district.

  • Address: Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée – 6, place des Vosges, 75004 (4th arrondissement)
  • Metro: St-Paul, Bastille or Chemin Vert
  • Tel: +33 (0) 1 42 72 10 16
  • Visit the official website

Opening Hours and Tickets

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. It’s closed on Mondays and on French public holidays including Christmas (December 25th), New Year’s Day, and Bastille Day (July 14th).

Tickets: Entry to permanent collections and displays is free for all visitors. Entry prices vary for temporary exhibitions; see the official website for more details.

What to See & Do Nearby?

centre pompidou paris
The Centre Pompidou is a few minutes on foot from the Victor Hugo House

The Maison de Victor Hugo is centrally located and in close reach of numerous key attractions and places in Paris, so it’s easy to build a morning or afternoon around it.

It lies at the edge of the Marais and the adjoining Bastille district, so from the Place des Vosges, you can easily head in either direction to explore sights such as the Place de la Bastille, the Jewish quarter around Rue des Rosiers, and the Musée Carnavalet, dedicated to the history of Paris.

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Further to the south and just a few minutes on foot, you’ll find the Centre Georges Pompidou and its remarkable, sprawling modern art collections. The panoramic views of the city from the top floor are essential, too.

And even closer to the smack-center of the city, the mostly-pedestrian Rue Montorgueil quarter beckons, with its market stalls, sidewalk cafes, bakeries and stylish wine bars.

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