François Hugo, the great grandson of the celebrated French poet and novelist Victor Hugo, was the silversmith and jeweller of the 20th century avant-garde. Hugo worked closely the modern artists of the time, translating their ideas and designs into both intricate objects of fashion and precious metal sculptures. Hugo’s involvement in the contemporary art scene was recorded as early as 1922. This is around the same time we see his friendship with Max Ernst and the role he played on his career and, more importantly, his life when he rescued the surrealist artist from a fatal fall whilst out climbing in the mountains.
Despite a two year period, 1956-1958, where Hugo worked exclusively for Pablo Picasso fulfilling commissions that arrived in rapid-fire succession, Hugo was open to collaborating with numerous artists of the avant-garde including: Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp and even Coco Chanel, among others. Hugo’s knowledge and understanding of the mediums enabled the artists to fulfil their designs and desires in gold and silver with a tangible result.
However, Ernst’s first foray into working with Hugo was soon abandoned as a series gold plates that they created proved far too malleable and weak having been cast entirely from pure gold. Ernst then focused his attention on producing more durable works and from the 1960s onwards presented Hugo with three small plasters statues to be produced in silver. In 1967 Jeune homme aux bras croisés, depicting a young man with crossed arms, was the last of this series to be created and shows Ernst’s mastery of the medium that he developed during his experiments and learning with Hugo over the decade.