The grave of Gerard Barthelemy at Cimetiére du Montparnasse

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

For some reason, at the time that I wrote about my arts adventure at the Cimetiére du Montparnasse, I neglected to include one of the more-unusual grave markers there: the grave of Gerard Barthelemy, 1938-2002. Who was this man, and why did he want to be remembered with what appears to be a Roseate Spoonbill standing on top of his grave? Scroll down for more info ...

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the grave of Gerard Barthelemy at the Montparnasse Cemetery

Gerard Barthelemy (pictured at two different times below left) was an accomplished painter, although an example of his work below right doesn't suggest anything nearly as radical as his grave. He won the Prix de Rome - which is an annual contest for promising art students in France - in 1965, which allowed him to spend two years at the Villa Medici with the intention to see and copy the masterpieces of antiquity and the Renaissance. On a side note, to give some perspective on the Prix de Rome competition, it has been noted that the renowned painter Jacques-Louis David failed to win the prize three years in a row, and as a result of his distress over this was considering suicide - thankfully, he did not! But back to Barthelemy ...

photographs of the artist Gerard Barthelemy

seascape painting with boats by artist Gerard Barthelemy

After his stint in Rome, Barthelemy returned to Paris and had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Claude Bernard in 1973. The 1970's also included exhibitions of his work at the Jeanne Bucher Gallery and the National Centre for Contemporary Art, both of which are also in Paris.

But again, why the bird for his grave? The only clue I can uncover is that he had an exhibition in 1983 titled "Portraits of Birds" at the Cultural Center of Boulogne, which is a suburb west of Paris. I scoured the web looking for an example of one of his bird paintings, and trust me, it seemed like a futile search until I found this single image (below left), which still doesn't really give a solid clue about the meaning of his grave.

While most of my initial searches for art by Gerard Barthelemy revealed the somewhat traditional seascapes like the one posted above, it does appear that his work did take a more-adventurous turn later, as I found on the now-defunct website of Galerie Helene Trintignan. It is here that I finally found an art work with a reference to a Roseate Spoonbill - if you look at this painting titled "Naked in the Studio," (below right) an oil on wood piece from 1995, you'll see what seems like a bust of a Roseate Spoonbill seated on a chair in the left side of the painting. It's hard to guess what significance this bird held for Barthelemy, but it clearly matches up with the bird on his grave.

Painting of blackbirds by Gerard Barthelemy

Gerard Barthelemy, "Blackbirds," 1997, oil on canvas.

Naked in the Studio by artist Gerard Barthelemy

Gerard Barthelemy, "Naked in the Studio," 1995, oil on wood.

Here's two more views of Gerard Barthelemy's grave at the Cimetiére du Montparnasse:

two views of the artist Gerard Barthelemy's grave in the Montparnasse Cemetery

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