missing busts

Update on the missing busts in Pere Lachaise

The latest word from Marie in Paris is that many of the recovered busts that were stolen last fall from cemeteries around France, have started to return to their proper places. Thomas, Bizet, Baragnon, Adam, Belloc, Pouget, Desclée, Vignon, Barye, Boy, Delaplanche and Lemaître will soon be back keeping watch over their respective graves soon. It’s high time too.

Last walk through Pere Lachaise and last goodbyes

The bust of Rene Piavit not missing after all. Apparently the conservation at Pere Lachaise has instituted a policy of removing any unstable bust for safekeeping until they can be returned to the gravesite and affixed to the pedestal. A pretty good policy we'd say.

And speaking of missing busts the police have reportedly recovered most of the busts stolen from a number of Parisian cemeteries over the past several months. That's the good news; the bad news is that not all the recovered busts can be identified! It's always something!

I met up with Marie yesterday (Saturday) afternoon for a last stroll through the cemetery and to track down a couple of gravesites that have since eluded me: Preault in 49, Castiglione in 85 and Fresnel in 14. Marie found Preault for me and together we found Castiglione but Fresnel still remains that one elusive grave. . .

While waiting for Marie I caught sight of five young women just outside the cemetery entrance, four with devil horns on and one dressed like an angel with wings and halo; I have no idea what was going on here but they seemed very lively, happy and just out being goofy and enjoying life.

Not a bad way to go through life. And what better place than outside a cemetery to promote such a worldview, eh?

As Marie and I chatted and strolled through the cemetery I said let's swing through divisions 13 and 19 so that I could pay my respects to two of my favorite women: ballonist Sophie Blanchard (div. 13) and Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril (div. 19). (Photo top of Lautrec's poster of Jane.)

More than a century before there were barnstormers flying their biplane aircraft over county fairs in the United States, showing off their daredevil acrobatic skills, there were people in France doing pretty much the same thing but with balloons. In 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American Dr. John Jeffries were the first to cross the English in a ballown (they almost didn't make it). After Jean-Pierre died in a ballloning accident in 1809 his widow Sophie carried on the family tradition, becoming one of the first women aeronauts. During one show in 1819 her balloon caught fire from the fireworks and although sghe landed successfully on a nearby house, she was blown off the roof by a gust of wind and killed. Sophie was buried in division 13 of Pere Lachaise. (Photos left and below)

Jane Avril was one of the best known and in her day one of the most famous dancers at the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre as well as a number of other caberet shows. Jane replaced the incomparable Louse Weber (La Goulue) at the Moulin Rouge and became a sensation. She died in 1943 in a seniors' home in near poverty in 1943, largely unforgotten.

After we left the cemetery Marie and I met up with Philippe at a nearby cafe for coffee and later they took me next door to the 20th Arrondissement's Maire (city hall) across the street where the once-every-two-years' festival of associations was underway. Every organization, society and association in the arrondissement was out in force trying to persuade people to take a peek at what they had to offer the public and to consider joining. Naturally the Friends of Pere Lachaise had a booth as well.

It was a wonderful afternoon and a grand way to spend my last tour in Pere Lachaise. I will miss Marie, Philippe and of course the quiet streets of Pere Lachaise.

Wish I was there,


Thieves caught!

Well I just heard from Marie this morning and she received an email from Pere Lachaise saying that the thieves had been caught. The "theft ring" was a mother, son and daughter, who were apparently trying to sell the stolen busts and medallions at some of the, shall we say less-inquisitive antique dealers in Paris. marie said that details so far are sketchy but that thery recovered quite a few busts including Bizet.

The good news that the string of thefts of wonderful works of art has been brought to a halt, at least for the time being (we hope).

The question now is what will the city do about protecting all the busts in the cemetery in the future? Certainly one alternative would be to increase foot patrols of police and the cemetery wardens. Another, more effective but certainly more costly option would be to take one of the existing buildings in division 83 for example, presently used for administrative purposes, and turn it into an exhibition hall.


More missing busts?

Marie informed me last night that she thinks another four are missing:

BOUYER Louis-Charles (D35), bronze bust by A. Boucher
GRELOT Félix (D76), bronze bust
SAUTEREAU Jean (D68), bronze bust by Serres
WION-PIGALLE Emélie-Narcisse (D68), bronze bust by Anfrie

I can't confirm this, however, and in fact I have no photos of any of these, which leads me to believe they were taken sometime before the fall of 2006. (And Marie even said she thought Sautereau had been missing for some time.) But I'm not certain since I didn't even begin my second pass through Pere Lachaise until mid-October and it wasn't until later in the year that I started my videotaping.

But it was a fine day to be in the cemetery Saturday.

Theft confirmed in Pere Lachaise

Well it appears that Valentin's bust in division 2 of Pere-Lachaise was indeed stolen. Au revoir!

Rain today and predicted for tomorrow as well so it doesn't appear right now (6;44 a.m.) that I'll be going out to Pere-Lachaise for any videotaping. Of course this being Paris and since we are on the cusp of global warming (thanks Detroit!) you just never know what to expect from the weather an hour from now.


I've finished Montmartre

Well I finished my second pass through Montmartre cemetery yesterday.

My goal ever since we arrived in Paris last August was to make a thorough sweep through each of the cemeteries in Paris to photodocument their funerary sculpture, and then pass through a second time later in the year when the foliage all came off the trees.

And it was a gorgeous day for taking photos -- at least in Montmartre before the rain hit later in the afetrnoon -- so off I went.

And along the way I stumbled across the little gem (that's it up there). It's a simple, sweet stone marking the final resting place of one Louise Weber, known locally as "La Goulué", who was the creator of the French Can Can!

Now all I have remaining is to videotape the last seven divisions at Pere-Lachaise. I'm also hoping to tape Marie and Philippe talking about Paris cemeteries once or twice more before we leave the end of March. They are unbelievable repositories of information and the stories they can tell. . . .

Speaking of Marie she was out at Pere-Lachaise yesterday and discovered that the bust of Valentin in division 2 is missing. We have yet to ascertain whether it is theft or another one removed by the conservation for safekeeping.

Thefts continue in Paris cemeteries

Well we’ve found more missing artwork in Paris cemeteries.

It appears that a large medallion on the Michenaud family headstone in division 89 of Pere Lachaise is gone – it was there last August at any rate. (see photo right.)

Also missing in division 91 in Pere Lachaise is the bust of a serene Louis-Philippe Brandin, and Lemaitre’s striking pose is gone from division 28 in Montmartre. (see photos below: Lemaitre top and Brandin below.)

You would think there’s a sign outside each of the cemeteries in Paris that says, “Hey c’mon in, spend the night and steal something on your way out,” like they have become a sort of “stop n shop” for funerary artwork.

Souday not missing

Well good news for a change! The bust of French literary critic Paul Souday is not in fact missing from divisiom 85 in Pere Lachaise. I reported recently that it is gone, which it is, but apparently the cemetery staff removed it for safekeeping, something about it being unstable on its pedestal.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I returned to Montmartre and am now up to division 27. One more trip there and I should be done with my second pass through that cemetery.


More missing busts

Well the total number of solen artwork from Pere Lachaise cemetery has reached at least nine that we know of. One of them, Louis Thomas in div. 73/74 was not only stolen, but whoever took it apparently must have used a sledge hammer since there is a large chunk missing off the back of the pedestal as well. (photos, Louis Thomas before and after.)

There is now an effort underway here in Paris to begin putting together a database of funerary artwork in the Parisian cemeteries. There are some very serious folks here determined to catalogue what they can before it is too late. It is presently not known exactly how many pieces of art are in fact in the cemeteries, but from what I can tell it must run into the hundreds. . . .

And we are not talking about factory-produced items out of a catalogue, but one-of-a-kind sculptures, designed, and executed by some of the great names in the city: Millet, Vigneron, Cartellier, Etex, Barrias, Bartholomé, David d'Anger, Dubois, Bartholdi, Clesinger.

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.

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…

Missing in Pere Lachaise

This past week I discovered that three busts are missing from their graves:

Edmond Adam in div. 54 (bust by Aime Millet)

Claude Vignon in div. 46 (real name Noemie Rouvier, she did her own)

Hilaire Belloc in div. 52

It may be that they were removed for cleaning (right) or it may be that there is a substantial market for these things somewhere. I suppose we'll have to say goodbye. . .

Edmond Adam:

Hilaire Belloc:

Claude Vignon: