Lauretta Hugo

Widow of the painter Jean Hugo
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The Independent Online

When the novelist François Cérésa published a sequel to Les Misérables in 2001, it was Lauretta Hugo, widow of Victor Hugo's great-grandson, who led the family's attempts to have it banned. "Can one imagine commissioning the 10th symphony of Beethoven?" they asked. The Hugos failed and " Les Mis II" was translated into English as Cosette, or, The Time of Illusions in 2003.

Mary Lauretta Jaqueline Desirée Valentine Esmé Hope-Nicholson, artist: born London 13 February 1919; married 1949 Jean Hugo (died 1984; two sons, five daughters); died Lunel, France 26 January 2005.

When the novelist François Cérésa published a sequel to Les Misérables in 2001, it was Lauretta Hugo, widow of Victor Hugo's great-grandson, who led the family's attempts to have it banned. "Can one imagine commissioning the 10th symphony of Beethoven?" they asked. The Hugos failed and " Les Mis II" was translated into English as Cosette, or, The Time of Illusions in 2003.

Lauretta Hugo, the elder daughter of Hedley and Jaqueline Hope-Nicholson, died last month at her home at Mas de Fourques, Lunel, near Montpellier in France, at the age of 85. She was tall and handsome and had a strong character from the time she was sent to Paris to improve her French, but chose to concentrate on Spanish dancing instead. She then devoted herself to her long and happy marriage to the painter Jean Hugo. He died in 1984.

The Hope-Nicholsons were somewhat unconventional. My mother, Jaqueline Hope, was a genealogist, heraldic artist and impassioned costumier dealing with vast outdoor pageants and innumerable amateur theatricals but her greatest interest was in the Stuart kings, largely Charles II. My father, Hedley Nicholson (they assumed the Hope-Nicholson surname by deed poll), confined his interest to Charles I, editing the quarterly magazine of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. He kept a relic from the King's coffin and a piece of the shirt he wore on the scaffold in a box in the consecrated chapel in our London family home, More House, in Tite Street, Chelsea. His other great passion was for the Russian ballet.

When we - Lauretta, Felix and I - were growing up Hedley spent much time with his friends on Greek islands until he realised that Lauretta was turning from an ugly duckling (nicknamed "Ratty") into a glamorous "deb" in 1936. He presented her with a three-wheeler car when she was 16 that tended to tip over going round corners in London; passers-by were only too happy to extricate her and turn the car the right way up. She studied at the first History of Art course run by Anthony Blunt at the Courtauld Institute of Art, to which she drove him every day in her showy Oldsmobile, a large three-seater with an open dicky behind.

When our parents had a comparatively amicable "separation" in 1937 Felix remained with our mother at More House and Lauretta and I went to live with our father in the South of France until the "Phoney War" in early 1940. She and I came back to London for a "holiday", or so we thought, but had to remain there - leaving our father to return on a cattle boat just before the fall of France, together with Somerset Maugham and other reluctant refugees.

During the Second World War she converted to Roman Catholicism and worked for a time in the canteen at Westminster Cathedral. She became assistant editor of the Burlington Magazine under Tancred Borenius and later helped Richard Buckle to produce his Ballet magazine. Amongst her closest wartime friends were the artist Augustus John, who lived opposite in Tite Street and made many portraits of her, and Vyvyan Holland, younger son of Oscar Wilde.

Not wishing to remain in post-war Britain, she went to live in Cyprus in a disused monastery and started to paint - she was a talented artist - before deciding to emigrate to France "to meet artists". In this she succeeded and in 1949 married, as his second wife, Jean Hugo, with whom she had two sons and five daughters.

The Hugos lived in a somewhat dilapidated farmhouse, entertaining friends such as Picasso, Dalí, Cocteau and Cecil Beaton. There she tended the vines and produced a much sought-after dessert wine called Muscat de Lunel, the peacocks regularly fell out of the trees at night and the sheep were quartered immediately under the guest bedrooms - not entirely to the guests' delight.

Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster

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