Early in the 1870s, the Parisian firm Goupil et Cie. purchased the French rights to the woodburytype process that had been developed in England a decade before and began to create one of the most extensive photographic documentations of celebrated personalities ever attempted. The firm's periodical, called the Galerie Contemporaine, included photographs by the noted portraitists Nadar and Etienne Carjat as well as portraits by the nobleman Vicomte Albert d'Amoux, known as Bertall, who was active in Paris during the 1860s and early 1870s.
Artists, politicians, and literati were favorite subjects for the Galerie Contemporaine. Among them was the writer, Victor Hugo, who, upon his return from political exile on the island of Guernsey after the downfall of Emperor Napoleon III in 1870, was one of the most sought-after celebrities to be honored by the magazine. The documentary nature of the photograph is furthered by Bertall's use of extremely even lighting and the stiff, formal stance assumed by Hugo.