In all the decades I have been visiting Père-Lachaise seeing this memorial in the public park, Square Samuel de Champlain during my visit in December was a first for me. Due to heavy rain and the fear by the administrators of falling tree branches, I was asked to quickly exit the Porte Gambetta entrance of the cemetery, so I decided to take a leisurely stroll down to Boulevard Ménilmontant.
Midway down a steep incline in the park, I was startled by a dramatic and moving sculpture by Paul Moreau-Vauthier (1871 – 1936) who is buried in Division 14. The sculpture depicts the final moments of one-hundred and forty-seven fédérés, combatants of the Paris Commune who were lined up against the Mur des Fédérés (the real wall is in Division 76 – designated with a large plaque) and summarily executed, and whose bodies were dumped into a mass grave directly in front of the wall. In this artwork, a robed female figure with arms outstretched is surrounded by the ghost-like figures of the fallen Communards.
The Association of the Friends of the Paris Commune has long explained that the much-photographed bas-relief sculpture is not the famous Communards’ Wall – nor is it accepted as a symbol of remembrance for the Commune members who fell.
In consulting a colleague and fellow taphophile Steve Soper, he thought that the idea was to include this sculpture in Division 76 but too many political issues were at stake so it was eventually placed outside and out of the way — where it could do little harm to any one group or organization.
Americans certainly aren’t the only ones with a bit of a thing for Paris. Benjamin Franklin was born there, and from their gift of the Statue of Liberty, to our gifts of the Lost Generation and Jerry Lewis, to their love of American pop art, and countless moments of literature, art, music and cinema — we seem to love it there as much as anyone (except maybe actual Parisians).
As historic as the Broadway musical title, Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map!, the printed map is perceived by many as an historic artifact of a bygone era. With the preponderance of digital navigational systems in our cars and GPS apps on our smartphones, the role of the classic mapmaker might seem outdated or unnecessary. I assure you, it is not!
In creating my own map of Père Lachaise Cemetery, I have come to admire the cartographers whose skills are still very much in demand from the National Geographic Society whose maps of scenic trails are invaluable to hikers to major tourist attractions who rely on skilled designers to create maps that oftentimes are deemed works of art. (more…)
I was in Paris during November, 2016 and had the pleasure of meeting artist Milène Guermont at a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by expat and mutual friend Michael Kurcfeld, a producer of an ongoing series of video profiles of top fine-art photographers. Milène spoke of her sculpture project, “CAUSSE” installed in Montparnasse Cemetery; and I shared with her my life-long passion for Père Lachaise. With the juxtaposition of our creative interests in burial monuments, I am happy that we have stayed in touch across 6,000 miles. May her work be an inspiration to those considering a memorial tomb. It gives me great pleasure to share details of her recent artwork in Paris here on the City of Immortals blog.
Vernissage at the Cemetery
“In the history of the art of the burial tomb, it is today quite rare, if not almost impossible, to be able to express oneself artistically for a contemporary funerary artwork because the norms have come to constrain this ancestral expression. While we enjoy walking in our cemeteries, these new places are becoming boring. Except for “monuments to the memory of …” or commemorations of a famous person or a dramatic event, artists have deserted this direct reflection on death and one of the traditional rites, the burial.
No better time than International Women’s Day to celebrate some of the remarkable women buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery: Listed by those tombs featured in the City of Immortals tours.
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (January 28, 1873–August 3, 1954). Colette was one of the leading literary figures in France and the author of dozens of books, such as Chéri, La Naissance du Jour, and Gigi, which was made into a film starring Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jordan, and Leslie Caron.
Rosa Bonheur (March 16, 1822–May 25, 1899). Bonheur was the most famous woman painter of the 19th century and the first renowned painter of animals; one of her best-known works, The Horse Fair, hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Bonheur lived with a lifelong friend Natalie Micas, and later Anna Klumke, her life partner. The three are buried together in a plot Bonheur purchased in Père Lachaise.