Victor Hugo, 1802

Victor Hugo

On February 26, 1802, French Romantic novelist, poet, and dramatist Victor Hugo was born in Besançon, France. Outside of France, Hugo is best known for his novels such as Notre-Dame de Paris ( or The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English) and Les Misérables. In fact, the latter was made into a highly successful musical and then adapted into a 2012 film. However, in France, Hugo is better known for his poetic works.

Victor Hugo circa 1853-1855, via. I can just picture the photographer saying, “Quick! Act natural!” And then Hugo strikes this pose.

Influenced by the French Revolution of 1789, Hugo’s works are dominated by social and political themes (you know, like Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité). In addition, Hugo’s father was a general in Napoleon’s army. Thus, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Hugo never supported the French monarchy. Instead, he became an advocate for republicanism.

In 1830, the July Revolution broke out in France and a constitutional monarchy was consequently put in place. Hugo would have preferred a republic, but was nonetheless inspired by the themes of equality and freedom that powered the two revolutions. Thus, in 1831, he published The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of his first works that included the social and political themes for which Hugo became known.

Hugo had now made a name for himself in the literary world, and in 1841 was elected to the Académie française or French Academy, a prestigious group that serves as the authority on the French language. Additionally, he began working on Les Misérables, a novel which took about 17 years to write and publish. It makes sense that it took so long considering it consists of five volumes and is one of the longest novels ever written. Ever.

Les Mis was finally published in 1862. The shortest correspondence in history supposedly occurred between Hugo and his publisher. Hugo sent a telegram with only a “?” to ask how well Les Mis was doing, as he was on vacation when it was published. His publisher sent back a “!” to signify that it was a sensation.

Does this look familiar? French illustrator Émile Bayard drew this for the original edition of Les Miserables, and it is used to promote the musical today, via.

In 1851, Hugo fled to Brussels after a coup in France, because he strongly opposed the new monarch, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. He also lived in Britain for awhile in his exile. However, he triumphantly returned in 1870, when a republic was established.

Hugo died in Paris on May 22, 1885, and was buried in the Panthéon as a national hero who exposed the flaws of society and helped create a republic in France.

“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Berthe Morisot, 1841

On this day in 1841, Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot was born in Bourges, France. Her father was a high-ranking government official and her grandfather was a Rococo painter.

Berthe Morisot With a Bouquet of Violets, Edoaurd Manet, 1872, via

At the time, upper-class women were under rigid social rules. They were encouraged to study the fine arts, such as painting, which could be practiced with other women, but were not encouraged to become famous painters or sell their art in shows. Despite their traditional upbringing, Morisot and her sister Edma moved to Paris to study and copy paintings at the Louvre in the late 1950s under Joseph Guichard. They also studied with Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, a landscape painter for several years. Corisot encouraged Morisot to paint en plein air, or “outdoors.”

At one point, Corot wrote in a letter to the Morisot sisters’ mother, “With characters like your daughters, my teaching will make them painters, not minor amateur talents. Do you really understand what that means? In the world of the grande bourgeoisie in which you move, it would be a revolution. I would even say a catastrophe.”

Sure enough, Morisot exhibited her work for the first time in the prestigious show, the Salon, in 1864. The Salon was the official show of the state-run organization the Academie des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts) in Paris.

Vue du petit port de Lorient (The Harbor at Lorient), 1869, via

Over the years, Morisot’s paintings became more Impressionistic. Impressionism is a painting style that originated in France in the 19th century. It focuses on natural light, features bold colors, and utilizes short, visible brush strokes. This style of painting was revolutionary at the time because it rejected the conventional painting style, which was very detailed and realistic. Impressionism, on the other hand, gave more of an “impression” of a scene than a painstakingly detailed depiction. Furthermore, Impressionist painters often depicted “snapshots” of daily life such as dreamy landscapes or scenes from domestic life. Because Impressionism was unconventional, many Impressionist painters were rejected from showing in the Salon.

In 1868, Morisot met Impressionist artist Edouard Manet, with whom she had a lasting friendship. Morisot became even more involved in the Impressionist community, marrying Manet’s brother, Eugene, in 1874 and becoming friends with other influential Impressionist painters such as Edgar Degas and Frederic Bazille.

Le Berceau (The Cradle), 1872, was shown at the first Impressionist exhibition, via

Morisot had a regular spot in the Salon, but in 1874, she chose to exhibit her work at the first independent Impressionist show instead. She continued to show her work in every show except for 1877 when she was pregnant with her daughter Julie. After Julie’s birth, she soon became Morisot’s favorite subject.

Julie Rêveuse (Julie Daydreaming), 1894, via

Although Morisot’s style was modern for the time, she enjoyed the support of many critics during her lifetime. Here is Charles Ephrussi’s beautiful description of Morisot’s work from the Gazette des Beaux-Arts:

Berthe Morisot is very French in her distinction, elegance, gaiety and nonchalance. She loves painting that is joyous and lively; she grinds flower petals onto her palette, in order to spread them later on her canvas with airy, witty touches, thrown down a little haphazardly. These harmonise, blend, and finish by producing something vital, fine, and charming.

Eugene Manet died in 1892, and Morisot continued to paint. While never attaining commercial success during her lifetime, she outsold many of her contemporaries including Monet and Renoir, had a solo exhibition in 1892, and had one of her paintings purchased by the government in 1894.

Morisot died from pneumonia on March 2, 1895 at the age of 54.

Psyché, 1876, via 

I’m fascinated by Morisot, because she not only broke the rules of conventional French painting, she also broke expectations for her gender by pursuing a career in painting.

I love learning about French art movements. In fact, one of my first posts was about Rene Magritte, my favorite surrealist painter.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Simone de Beauvoir, 1908

On this day in 1908, Simone Lucie-Ernestine-Marie-Bertrand de Beauvoir- or Simone de Beauvoir as she was later known- was born in Paris, France. De Beauvoir was a writer, feminist, intellectual, political activist, and existentialist philosopher, best known for her feminist text, Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), which was about the oppression of women throughout history.

Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir was raised Catholic but later became an atheist and existentialist. At 21 years old, de Beauvoir went to the Sorbonne to study philosophy. In 1929, she graduated from the Sorbonne and met French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, with whom she had a lifelong relationship. The two never married because de Beauvoir did not agree with the social institution of marriage.

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, 1963

Influenced by World War II, de Beauvoir became interested in the social and political issues of her age. Along with Sartre and a few of their contemporaries, she founded and edited Les Temps Modernes, a left-wing political journal, in 1945. In 1946, she published The Ethics of Ambiguity (Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté), an essay about existential ethics.

In 1949, she published The Second Sex in France, a feminist treatise so controversial it was banned by the Vatican. One of her most famous quotes from the work is:

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

The unabridged English translation of Le Deuxieme Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir.

De Beauvoir died in April 14, 1986 in Paris and shares a grave with partner Jean-Paul Sartre, who died six years before.

Simone de Beauvoir

 

It’s My Anniversary!

On this day in 2012, I started my blog! Cue the fireworks!

This might not be a  historical event, but it’s a significant part of my personal history. I started this blog a year ago to learn more about historical events on the day that they occurred and to share that knowledge with you. I did not know if this would be an endeavor I would stick with, but the reward of learning about our world’s rich history and the kind feedback I have received have kept me going.

Thank you, Marilyn, for the birthday wishes!

Thanks for reading!

Alfred Nobel, 1833

On this day in 1833, dynamite inventor and creator of the Nobel Prizes, Alfred Nobel, was born in Stockholm, Sweden. Wondering why the inventor of dynamite would create a prestigious prize for peace? It helps to understand his motivations for inventing dynamite and instituting the Nobel Prizes.

Alfred Nobel

At first, Nobel’s family struggled financially. However, Nobel’s father received the opportunity to manufacture explosives in St. Petersburg, Russia. With this new income, his father was able to send Nobel to private tutors and he became educated in chemistry and fluent in six languages.

At age 18, Nobel studied chemistry in Paris, and he moved to the United States after that. During the Crimean War, Nobel found work at his family’s Russian factory, manufacturing equipment. However, after the war, the family went bankrupt. Nobel began studied and experimented with explosives, dedicating himself to the safe manufacture and use of nitroglycerine.

On September 3, 1864, an explosion at the family’s Swedish plant killed five people including Emil, Nobel’s brother. Emil’s death provided the impetus for Nobel to invent and patent dynamite, a safer alternative to nitroglycerine.

In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died, and a newspaper accidentally posted Alfred Nobel’s obituary- entitled “The Merchant of Death is Dead”- which condemned his invention of dynamite. This insight into how he would be remembered inspired Nobel to change his legacy and use his immense fortune from his 350 plus patents to create the Nobel Prizes to award those who have bettered mankind in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.

Nobel Peace Prize

Gene Kelly, 1912

Gene Kelly in the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain.

You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.

-Gene Kelly

On this day in 1912, actor, dancer, singer, choreographer, and all-around talented guy Gene Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

If you haven’t seen Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number, then WATCH IT RIGHT NOW! Seriously, though. It is a classic. It gives me the urge to use pretentious film critic phrases such as “the pinnacle of film musicals,” “a quintessential dance number,” and “the zenith of Kelly’s career.”

Here’s the bad news about Gene Kelly: he was a bit of a tyrant on set. He even made Debbie Reynolds cry.  Why Gene Kelly? Why?

I think the root of his tyranny was an innate perfectionism. He was just as hard on himself as others. Kelly shot the “Singin’ in the Rain” number with a 101 degree fever! Kelly was intensely dedicated to work, and it shows.

Gene Kelly

Further reading:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045152/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv

http://www.biography.com/people/gene-kelly-9362176

When you learn something bad about an actor, does that spoil their work for you?

Coco Chanel, 1883

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
-Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel (née Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) was born on this day in 1883– or 1893 as Chanel later claimed– in Saumur, France.

This style icon known for luxury had a very unfortunate childhood. Her mother died when she was very young. Consequently, her father, who made his living as a peddler, sent her to an orphanage where she learned how to sew.

Before she became a designer, however, she was a singer who became known by her nickname, “Coco.” In her 20s, Chanel was in a relationship with Etienne Balsan, and then his friend, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Her relationships with these men helped give Chanel her start in fashion.

Chanel claims the turning point in her career was when she fashioned a dress out of jersey on a cold day. Jersey had been previously used primarily for men’s fashion. However, Chanel’s jersey dress piqued the interest of many women who asked her where she got the dress. Since then, Chanel has been known for her chic, simple, and comfortable designs that have revolutionized fashion by incorporating elements from menswear. And one cannot forget her famous perfume “Chanel No. 5” which is still popular today.

Chanel was born into poverty, but overcame it through her creativity and connections. Although rags-to-riches stories are popular today, Chanel lied about her past because of her era’s stigma of poverty.

Coco Chanel was no doubt a talented and iconic designer, but many people tend to glorify her and overlook the fact that she was a Nazi sympathizer. That’s right. During World War II, Chanel became involved with a Nazi officer. She lost a lot of face for this, as her relationship was seen as a betrayal of France (part of France was, of course, occupied by Germany at the time). She had already shut down her business due to the depression and outbreak of war, but fled to Switzerland for a couple of years as a sort of self-imposed exile.

Chanel returned to fashion in the 70s and eventually achieved great success. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Chanel

Further reading:

http://www.biography.com/people/coco-chanel-9244165?page=2

http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk/biographies/coco-chanel.html

Did you know that Chanel was a Nazi sympathizer or that she was born into poverty? Do you wear Chanel?