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Friday, December 2, 2016

Artists' Graves

The grave of Edouard Manet, 1883,  Passy Cemetery, Paris
With the exception of some of the more morbid members of our art, very few of us have given much (if any) thought to our own death. Of course, that changes somewhat as we each get older and perhaps have a couple brushes with the grim reaper. I'd venture to say many artists under the age of fifty don't even have a will. We don't like to think about death, especially our own, and if nothing else, making out a will demands just such morose contemplation. Even if you're not rich and famous, most artist leave behind a sizable body of unsold works for their heirs to decide how, when, and where to unload. Personally, my will contains a list of friends, relatives, and organizations I'd like to have choose a "leftover" painting to hang somewhere in memory of me. Other artists' heirs set about liquidating unsold pieces, while some form foundations to support a museum exhibiting their work. Other artists' descendants merely store them away for a few generations hoping the art world eventually comes to realize their collective value.

Plain and simple--respectful without a hint of pomposity.
Then there's the matter of burial arrangements. Quite apart from disposing of their painted assets, it's in this regard that artists, being creative types, sometimes "raise some eyebrows." In looking over the graves of famous artists, I was amazed both at how grandiose some were, and how plain and simple other final resting places were designed. The one deciding factor, insofar as I can tell, depends upon whether the artist took the time to work out the details or whether his or her penny-pinching heirs made the decisions. Take the grave of the French painter, Edouard Manet (top), for instance. The artist contracted syphilis in his mid-forties and never received treatment. In April, 1883, his left foot was amputated because of gangrene. He died, not unexpectedly, some eleven days later. From the appearance of his mausoleum in Paris' Passy Cemetery, he must have spent at least a few of those eleven days working out its details. In contrast, the grave of Vincent van Gogh (above), next to that of his brother, Theo, reflects a lack of financial resources, Manet seems to have employed.

The tomb of Raphael
Two of the more elaborate artists' tombs I've seen myself date from the Renaissance period in Italy, those of Raphael de Sanzio (above) and Michelangelo (below). Of the two, Raphael's is the more modest, though the setting is anything but. Michelangelo's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, to which he had no input whatsoever other than the influence of his de Medici tomb may have had on his followers. Both men would probably be dismayed by what their creative descendants have seen fit to house their earthly remains (Michelangelo is lodged, not in his wall tomb, but beneath the floor of the church).

Florence's Basilica of Santa Croce. Besides Michelangelo, the
church also houses the tombs of Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli, Foscolo,
Gentile, Ghiberti, Rossini, Guglielmo Marconi, and Enrico Fermi. 
Although I could have quite easily, while in Venice, I did not seek out the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa de Frari (below) where I could have found the pyramidal tomb of the Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova, and the Venetian painter, Tiziano Vercelli (Titian), lodged just across the nave from one another. Ironically, Titian's tomb is based upon a design by Canova as adapted by his students. Also buried in this church are Bellini and Donatello.

It doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside, along with its artists' tombs, "The Frari" (as it's called by the locals) houses hundreds of millions of dollars worth of religious masterpieces.
From the 19th century on, few artists were being buried in churches (perhaps they were filling up). When the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin died in 1917, he chose a spot in front of an old hotel which he'd turned into a museum featuring his work at his estate he called Meudon (just outside Paris). Presiding over his grave is, of course, a bronze copy of his famous The Thinker (below). His funeral, seen below, in the amber-tinted print, depicts some six-thousand mourners.

The sculptor of the famous Kiss, chose instead a bronze copy of
his even more famous, The Thinker  for his tomb , placed in front of the Rodin Museum just outside Paris. (It is one of twenty in the world).
Although Rodin turned all his remaining works and the country estate he called Meudon over to the French government when he died in 1917, Pablo Picasso had so much money he simply went out and bought a similar lodging, the Chateau Vauvenargues near Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire (seen in the hazy background below) as the site of his future resting place. Picasso bought the ancient fortification in 1959 and lived there the rest of his life. Although his grave itself is really quite modest by some standards, the venue is rather auspicious.

Besides literally thousands of his own paintings which
remained at his death in 1973, Picasso also owned works
by Chardin, Corot, Courbet, Renoir, Gauguin, Vuillard,
Rousseau, Matisse, Braque, Miró, Modigliani and Cézanne.
Perhaps the most modest of all, the grave of Andy
Warhol, near Pittsburgh, was financed by his heirs.
Rather than flowers, admirers leave cans of soup
on his grave.


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