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.
Douglas Keister is an author and photographer I have long admired. We met in person at a book signing recently in Los Angeles (he lives up north in Chico, CA) and he agreed to share an excerpt from one of his many fine books on cemeteries.
“Cemeteries are virtual encyclopedias of symbolism. The symbols on a person’s tomb may help to tell us something about the life of its inhabitant. Dead men may tell no tales, but their tombstones do. Besides informing us of the person’s name and dates of birth and death, a tombstone often tells us a person’s religion, ethnicity, what clubs he was a member of, occupation and what the person’s thoughts were on the afterlife.
Jeanne Hébuterne (April 6, 1898 –January 25,1920) was a French artist, best known as the frequent subject and common-law wife of the artist Amedeo “Modi” Modigliani. Sadly, she took her own life on this day.
Hébuterne’s family had brought their daughter to their home after hearing that Modigliani had died, but the distraught Jeanne threw herself out of the fifth-floor apartment window, killing herself and her unborn child.