In Besançon, the restoration of a statue of Victor Hugo arouses misunderstanding

The sculpture by Senegalese artist Ousmane Sow (1935-2016) representing Victor Hugo was restored this year by the Coubertin foundry, at the initiative of the City of Besançon. Opposite the work before and after the restoration work. Wikimedia Commons/Jean-Charles Sexe/City of Besançon

Donated by Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow to the writer’s hometown, the freshly restored work now has a dark skin tone. Much more than the original version, according to the artist’s widow.

The author of Miserables of the Oriental and of Notre Dame of Paris took on colors under the sun of Besançon. The municipality on Friday unveiled the restored version of the statue of Victor-Hugoan artwork by the Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow installed in 2003 on the Human Rights Esplanade. Cleaned of its patina, the sculpture of the child of the country now shines with a renewed brilliance. Some doubts about the tone of the colors used for this second youth, however, caused reactions even in the entourage of the sculptor, who died in 2016.

“The original face was flesh-colored. He looks like a black Victor Hugo, which was never Ousmane’s intention.was surprised Béatrice Soulé, the widow of the sculptor questioned by The Republican East , reacting to the new appearance of the statue of Victor Hugo. Mentioning not having been contacted by the City of Besançon about the restoration, Béatrice Soulé also pointed out that apart from her complexion, a white necklace of the statue “was much more subtle in the original work”.

earth color

The former mayor of Besançon Jean-Louis Fousseret (LREM), present alongside the artist at the inauguration of the statue in October 2003, was also moved by the new appearance of the work, which he considers not faithful to its original state. “Ousmane Sow, who was one of the great encounters of my life, wanted this Victor Hugo, as he was when he was inaugurated. And the color was quite different from what you see now“, he expressed to our colleagues.

The restoration of the statue of Victor Hugo was entrusted to a skater from the Coubertin foundry, former collaborator of Ousmane Sow. In a press release, the City of Besançon evokes the desire to “getting closer to the original spirit” of the work of the Senegalese sculptor, “who liked colors and who was not in favor of ‘simple’ bronzes”. A laudable step, despite the lackluster result, said Béatrice Soulé, heiress with her children of the intellectual property of Ousmane Sow.

Known for his sculptures of human figures, Ousmane Sow created his works from an iron structure that he covered with burlap and on which he shaped his subjects with a mixture of earth, straw and sand. “I like a work of art to be open, to accept different interpretations from the public, aggressive for some, peaceful for others”, he told the Figaro in an interview published at the time of his historic entry into the Academy of Fine Artsthe first by an African artist, in 2013.

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