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Do you like Les Misérables? Did you know Juan Luna paid a tribute to Victor Hugo in an 1885 painting?

LUNA THE PARISIAN is manifest in this painting which, despite its listed title, is not an ordinary scene in a flower shop. It could more appropriately be called “Homage to Victor Hugo” or even “The Funeral of Victor Hugo.” For it depicts a moment and a place during the lavish state funeral for the dead poet, on June 1, 1885. This must have been a particular flower shop actually remembered by the artist, perhaps sketched on the spot, as was his habit. The pretty attendants are trimming a wreath, one of the thousands bought by Parisians on that day to lay on the steps of the Pantheon, where Hugo was buried. So great was the throng that it took the procession five hours – all of the afternoon – to cover the relatively short distance from the Arc de Triomphe, where the vigil had been held, and it seemed all of Paris had congregated the next morning in what some observers compared to a country fair.

Juan Luna, by this time well settled in Paris and painting local types and street scenes, would not have failed to join other artists in depicting scenes of Hugo’s funeral. Many such works exists, and Luna’s might now be one of the best known if it had come to light sooner. There is not only the horse-drawn omnibus in the background, loaded with mourners passing a flag-draped lamppost. On the tricolor band of wreath, which the woman in the foreground is finishing, appears the name “Hugo,” partly concealed by a red ribbon.

Juan Luna
Street Flower Vendors (1885) Oil on canvas, 75.6 x 41.9 cm.
Lopez Museum Collection

Text by E. Agular Cruz, 1975

Twelve Days of Christmas Day 5