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…