Sunday, December 31, 2006

Stolen artwork update

Well it appears that at least two more items have been stolen from Pere Lachaise and once form Montmartre. (It seems we can say stolen now since it's fairly obvious they are missing and the reason for their absence can be reasonably assumed to be theft.) That brings the total, I believe to at least nine pieces of artwork looted from Paris cemeteries so far.

A bust (?) of Aimée DESCLEE (division 70) is missing and so is a medallion of Henri FERNOUX (division 52). The Conversation at Pere Lachaise is looking for a photo of Fernoux so if by any chance you have a copy by all means send it along.

In Montmartre the bust of Edgard POUGET (division 5) is missing (photo below)

So far, from what I have seen and heard, it appears that artwork has been taken from at least three cemeteries so far: Montmartre, Montparnasse and Pere Lachaise.

The police are apparently involved now, at the request of the mayor of Paris, and one can only hope that the stolen items are recovered soon.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Six missing busts from Pere Lachaise

According to reports sometime in late November, at least six busts were looted from Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The six missing busts from Pere Lachaise are:

Antoine-Edmond ADAM, by Aimé Millet sculptor (Division 54):

Antoine-Louis BARYE, by Moulin (D49):

Jean-Hilaire BELLOC, by Itasse (D52):

Jean-Baptiste BOY, artist unknown (D53):

Georges BIZET, by Paul Dubois (D68):

Claude VIGNON, sculpted by herself (D46):

Get a good look becuase you'll probably never see them again.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Missing busts update

For anyone who has followed this little tale since I first reported it here some weeks back, Pere Lachaise experts Marie and Philippe sent off a note to the mayor of Paris, and Marie also contacted the historian of Pere Lachaise. The three of us sent off a letter to the editor of the International Herald Tribune, which has been running a series of stories on the return of looted treasures; the idea being that looting of treasures continues even in the Paris cemeteries!

Lo and behold somewhere, someone in the international media got the word, at least in the UK. Click here for a link to the story:

The plot thickens.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Picpus cemetery

Marie, Philippe and I had originally scheduled to meet in Pere Lachaise Saturday afternoon to begin taping our podcasts in division 8, 9 and 10.

Well I was just about to board the Metro when Marie called and said there had been a change of plans. It seems that she and Philippe had read in the local weekly Pariscope,(a listing events throughout Paris) that there would be a special guided tour of the rarely opened crypts beneath Les Invalides (where Napoleon I is buried). Marie said they had been waiting for years for this opportunity and would I care to join them about 2 pm? You bet!

So I retraced my steps to the apartment, hung out for a while, called Susie to see how she was doing (“Fine”) and headed off towards Les Invalides (line 10 from Jussieu to the no. 13 at duroc and then off at Invalides. Simple.).

I arrived about the same as Marie – we met up in the large courtyard just as you enter the main gate (the other end from the “eglise”, the church, where Napoleon and crew are actually buried). A few minutes later Philippe arrived and soon afterwards a crowd started gathering in the courtyard, some 30-40 people eager to take the tour. It quickly became evident that the guide had a bit of a cult following in Paris and that many of the people there had already signed up via (French) word-of-mouth. We soon found ourselves left out in the cold – which it was a bit actually – although in typical Gallic uncertainty the guide informed Marie that “Maybe there’ll be room in an hour or so.”

No thanks.

I told Marie and Philippe that I would head home and after saying au revoir off I went. A few minutes later, just as I left the main entrance to the Invalides I heard someone calling out my name and I turned around to see the two of them chasing after me. “So Steve do you want to go to Picpus cemetery?” Whoa! Yeah! The cemetery is rarely open and very hard to find so I jumped at the chance, you bet.

Picpus cemetery”, you ask? Besides the funny name what’s the deal here? Well several things actually.

The cemetery is actually composed of two parts. One part is where 1,306 of the great and common people of Paris were guillotined in the June and July of 1794. The executions took place on the nearby Place de la Nation (then called the Place du Trone), some days as many as 55 people were beheaded, and the bodies were transported to the closest open space where they were dumped into mass graves. (photo below: the 2 mass graves.)

The second part is the little cemetery next to the mass graves, which holds the remains of some of France’s most well known families. Moreover, it is also the resting place of the Marquis de Lafayette. Yes, that Lafayette: “Lafayette we are here”, Lafayette, Indiana, ,Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, Fayetteville, North Carolina and on and on. I mean the man was made an honorary US citizen in 2002.

So the three of us headed for the Metro line 13 got off at the Opera stop, picked up the RER to Place de la Nation where Philippe showed me the spot where the guillotine had been set up. We then pent 15 minutes trying to find our way out of this enormous Place. At last we located the right “spoke” of the hub and soon found the little cemetery, down a small side street away (35 rue de Picpus).

After paying our fee (2 euros and change each) to the fellow at the “conservation” building he showed us to the gate, which he unlocked and let us in to wander around ourselves.

The first thing that strikes you as you enter is a long rectangular green space running deep into the block itself.

At the far side of that is the original door (some discussion here between Marie and Philippe about this), or at least the original entrance used by the carts which brought the headless bodies from the Place to the mass graves here; several dozen a day in fact. Nasty business.

There is also a small segment of the original wooden palisade that once surrounded the gravesites.

Off to the right, is the small cemetery itself, behind which is a stone wall and a locked gate, and at the far back are the two mass graves. The little cemetery is where you can find Lafayette’s grave, next to the entrance to the mass grave section, and is decorated with various markers from the United States' organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution.

There is also a plaque memorializing the 16 Carmelite nuns who were executed on July 24, 1794. Ranging in age from 29 to78 they went to the scaffold singing hymns as a choir, until one-by-one the last nun, still singing was executed. They were beatified in 1906.

There are also recent memorials as well. One just has to prove that a member of their family was one of the 1,306 who were originally buried in the mass graves.

From the little cemetery we walked back toward the entrance and into the small chapel near the main gate.

The interior was nearly dark except for the far back left wall of the transept which was lit up so one could read the enormous plaque listing some of all the names of those 1,306 who were executed that summer. Reading the plaques on the walls – there was another one on the opposite transept wall -- which seem to go all the way to the ceiling, and arranged by date of execution, one can’t help but feel the tragic, stupid absurdity of what happened just a few hundred meters away more than two centuries ago. I used to think of the Terror as striking mainly at the nobility – which it did certainly – but more than half of the names on these lists were simple commoners like Marie Bouchard, age 18, “domestique”or Jean Baptiste Marino, age 37, porcelain painter or Raymond Borie, age 19, shoemaker. Horrible.

We left the chapel and walked out into a light drizzle, said au revoir (again) and plan to meet up the next weekend at Pere Lachaise.

Wish you were here,


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Looting sculptures from Pere Lachaise

The series of articles in the International Herald Tribune about the Getty Museum’s ongoing struggle with the Italian government over the issue of returning “looted” artifacts certainly brings to light a practice that is probably far more widespread than most people in the art world would care to admit. In fact, one can only wonder if most artwork presently on display in museums around the world isn't looted from somewhere; certainly “ancient” artwork. And most would assume the plunder comes from the famous archeological sites: for example Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt, Mexico, and China. (photo: Bizet is gone.)

It might come as a bit of a surprise then to learn that looting is alive and well right here in Paris in the 21st century, and in the cemeteries of all places.

Back in mid-November I reported on this blog that it appeared there were several busts missing from their headstones in Pere Lachaise cemetery. It is now confirmed that at least four busts have been stolen (that we know of) from Pere Lachaise:

- Edmond Adam, division 54 (bust by Aimé Millet)
- Jean-Hilaire Belloc, division 52 (bust by Adolphe Itasse)
- Georges Bizet, division 68 (bust by Paul Dubois)
- Claude Vignon, division 46 (self-portrait)

And Montparnasse has had at least one stolen recently:

- Cornil, division 13 (unidentified sculptor)

In Pere Lachaise a “medallion” by Chagall was stolen from the Yvan Goll headstone some time back (a copy is there now). And Jim Morrison’s bust was stolen long ago, much to the chagrin of thousands of fans.

But these recent thefts indicate a more sinister effort at work: detailed planning (during a time when stone cleaning is well underway and so there are plenty of vehicles in the cemetery, light trucks especially), and of course a market must exist somewhere.

The price of metal has reached new heights lately: this could very well account for the theft of these busts, not for their artistic value but simply because they are made of bronze… If this is the case, the busts will be melted and thus will be destroyed forever. Sad thought indeed…