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Home » Art & Culture

Grave Art

By on Sep 18, 2010No Comment
Grave Art

“Without art,” George Bernard Shaw wrote, “the crudeness of reality would be unbearable.” Few things are a more unbearable intrusion on our sense of reality than death, which is why a little art goes a long way in assuaging our grief and celebrating the dead.

An article I’m working on about art en plein air in Paris took me to Pere Lachaise Cemetery on the east side of the city yesterday. Normally, spending a sunny afternoon among the dead is no walk in the park, but this is Paris, the art capital of the world, and exploring the extraordinary assemblage of tombs and gravesites at Pere Lachaise is akin to roaming the shady, tree-lined galleries of an extraordinary open-air museum. You see, Pere Lachaise is not a place where the dead are laid to rest and then forgotten by the living. It’s a timeless, sublime gallery of art where those lucky enough to have a few more breaths in them celebrate and remember those loved and lost with monumental art. Families, friends and nations honor their dead’s voyage to the great beyond with everything from bronze and marble sculptures and reliefs to stained glass and glittering mosaics that any world-class museum would be privileged to exhibit.

Arguably the most famous cemetery in the world, Pere Lachaise is the final resting place of countless international artists (Gericault, Delacroix), literary lions (Oscar Wilde, Moliere), musicians (Chopin, Jim Morrison), actors (Yves Montand, Sarah Bernhardt) and politicians (French President Felix Faure). As a matter of fact, the late French New Wave director Charles Chabrol was just buried there yesterday. Although the graves of the famous dead make Pere Lachaise a big tourist draw (a friendly Australian girl I bothered for directions to Wilde’s graffiti-and-lipstick defaced tomb told me it garners over a million visitors a year!), the graves of the “common folk” are often more theatrical and elaborate than those of their celebrity neighbors. It may seem a slightly macabre tick on your Paris to-do list, but try not to look it over the next time you’re in the City of Lights. If you need a little luring from the beyond, check out some of my cool pix.

Only in Paris would you find a photography exhibiton at a cemetery! This one was dedicated to - what else? - cemeteries around the world.
Only in Paris would you find a photography exhibiton at a cemetery! This one was dedicated to – what else? – cemeteries around the world.
The bed-shaped grave of French novelist Colette. A peaceful eternal slumber indeed!
The bed-shaped grave of French novelist Colette. A peaceful eternal slumber indeed!.
A bronze cello gone gorgeous and rustic with patina on a musician's tomb.
A bronze cello, gorgeous and rustic with the patina of time, on a musician’s grave.
chopin 4
The tombstone of Polish composer Frederic Chopin. This one’s special to me since my grandmother is a distant relative of Chopin’s lover Aurora Dupin, better known by her nom de plume as the writer George Sand.
equestrian tomb
A dramatic equestrian statue atop a tomb.
felix faure french president 1
Bronze statue of French President Felix Faure atop his tomb.
This relief put a smile on my face the minute I saw it. A soul ascending to the pearly gates in a hot air balloon. Bon voyage!
This relief put a smile on my face the minute I saw it. A soul ascending to the pearly gates in a hot air balloon. Bon voyage!
jacquignon christ
This marble tombstone with Christ presiding over a family grave is HUGE!
This one brings Dylan Thomas to mind: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage against the dying of the light."
This one brings Dylan Thomas to mind: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage against the dying of the light.”
This one brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful glass memorial in honor of a couple that died far too young.
This grave instantly brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful glass memorial in honor of a couple that died far too young.
tomb at the end of the road 2
A family tomb flanked by grieving bronze statues.
A simple grave for the complex and enormous genius Marcel Proust.
A simple grave for the enormously complex genius Marcel Proust.
Lipstick kisses adorn the flamboyant art deco tomb of Irish writer Oscar Wilde.
Lipstick kisses adorn the flamboyant art deco tomb of Irish writer Oscar Wilde.
Lions guard the door at this Chinese temple-tomb.
Lions guard the door at this Chinese temple-tomb.
Figures with a theater mask and flutes adorn this giant headstone.
Figures with a theater mask and flutes adorn this giant headstone.
A giant bronze monument marks the grave of French painter Gericault. The statue of the artist and the low relief of his famous "Raft of Medusa" are by Antoine Etex.
A giant bronze monument marks the grave of French painter Gericault. The statue of the artist and the low relief of his famous “Raft of Medusa” are by Antoine Etex.

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