Bonjour Monsieur Moreau
In Paris what is the art lover to do after having seen every Impressionist picture on offer and having spent a day traipsing around the Louvre? Well the answer is to seek out the studios of famous artists and to visit the city’s cemeteries. Gustav Moreau, the symbolist painter, left his town house to the French State to be open to the public. The visitor passes through the intimate domestic quarters to discover on the third and forth floor, two great studios connected by a spiral staircase. The walls are covered with the artist’s paintings both finished and unfinished which allows a glimpse into the artist’s methods and procedures. Ingeniously designed into the studios is a system of storage for retrieval and display of the artists many drawings, designs and works on paper.
The academically successful artist of the 19th Century revelled in building impressive studios to show off their wealth and status. In London, the newly restored Lord Leighton’s House in Kensington displays an entire Arabian Hall with a fountain, tiles by William De Morgan and two equally impressive studios, one for Summer and one for Winter.
Other artists have not been slow to realise the benefits of leaving your studio and work to the public. Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture is best seen in her St Ives studio and Garden and she now also has a Gallery named after her in Wakefield. Meanwhile over in Leeds the Henry Moore Foundation is a powerful force in promoting both his work and those of contemporary artists. Damien Hirst, not to be outdone, is converting the grade 1 listed Toddington Hall to show his collection and Tracy Emin we are also told will be leaving her house and studio in London’s east end to the Nation.
Meanwhile back in Paris, the cemetery of Pere Lachaise is well known for its hosts of celebrity occupants. Jim Morrison’s grave was the first to attract graffiti from his many fans and Jacob Epstein’s tomb for Oscar Wilde
has suffered a similar fate, which is now regrettably covered with lipstick, kisses from his many admirers. The smaller cemetery of Passy near the Eifel Tower has two famous occupants, Claude Dubussy and Edouard Manet. The latter shares his final resting place with his sister in law the Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot.
Montparnasse, as befits an area frequented by the great artists of the twentieth century, boasts an impressive number of celebrities and with the aid of a numbered map they should be easy to find. However, after vainly searching for the photographer Brassai, poet Tristan Tzara , Dadaist Man Ray and the sculptor Brancusi, I had to settle for the ill kempt tomb of expressionist painter Chaim Soutine and the pristine resting place of the philosophers Jean -Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Ignoring the composer Camille Saint -Saens I then went off in search of Samuel Beckett. Some time later, I found him opposite the flower covered memorial to the French pop star Serge Gainsbourg.
Well, the French think highly of their countrymen and I have a vague recollection of perhaps one song – ‘ Je t’aime ,.. moi non plus ‘. His version with Jane Birkin reached number one in the UK charts, but it was banned by the BBC for its sexual content. The Entente Cordiale is alive and well and taking off one’s hat to long dead artists is a fine way to spend a day in Paris, but I never did find the grave of Gustav Moreau – he’s in the Cimetiere de Montmatre.