VALENTINE HUGO French, 1887-1968


Valentine Hugo (b. 1887 Boulogne-sur-Mer, France – d. 1968 Paris, France) was a painter, illustrator, and costume and set designer for the opera and the theatre. After her studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and a brief passage in Dadaism, she strayed from Dada's nihilistic, anti-rational ideas to devote herself entirely to Surrealism from 1925. Contrary to Dada, André Breton wrote in the first Surrealist Manifesto (1924) that art gives sense and meaning to life, and insisted on the influence of Freud, psychoanalysis, and the interpretive power of dreams which, according to Breton, were the paradigm of artistic inspiration. Trusting the freedom of imagination, the Surrealists did not explore nature but rather an inner, intimate world.

Although Valentine Hugo's entourage already included some important artistic figures of the early 20th century such as Jean Cocteau, Marcel Proust, Erik Satie and Pablo Picasso, her circle widened with the Surrealists. She became close to André Breton, Nusch and Paul Éluard, René Crevel, René Char, Gala and Salvador Dalí, Dora Maar, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Tristan Tzara and Max Ernst, who painted a compelling portrait of her. Hugo joined the group as an artist in her own right and not as a muse: she was part of the Bureau of Surrealist Research and she was the first to draw 'exquisite corpses' on dark paper. She often took part in this collaborative artistic game, in which each participant took turns drawing on a sheet of paper before concealing their contribution and passing it to the next player. At the request of André Breton, she also participated in her first Surrealist exhibition at the Loeb Gallery in 1925. Afterwards, she was included in Surrealist exhibitions at the Pierre Colle Gallery in 1933, the Salon des Surindépendants in Paris in 1933, the Minotaure Exhibition at the Palais des Expositions in Brussels in 1934, the Gaceta de Arte de Tenerife exhibition in 1935, and the Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936.