They say that the Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the second most visited tourist site in Paris, which might be true. What I do know is that the Passy Cemetery in the 16th arrondissement is also wonderful place for a quiet stroll on a beautiful day, especially for the art lover.
Passy Cemetery is home to the tomb of impressionist artist Edouard Manet, his brother Eugene, and Berthe Morisot, who married Eugene at the age of 33.
Berthe Morisot lived most of her life in the bourgeois area of Passy, first with her parents, and later with her husband. Berthe’s mother actually gave up her flat on rue Guichard to Berthe and Eugene after their marriage.
Berthe was a muse and model to Edouard Manet, and posed for him many times. Whether or not they were ever lovers, you can feel how well he knew her in his portrait to the left. The painting feels exceedingly intimate, doesn’t it? I love how Manet captured her easy elegance, but with a touch of the defiance she must have had in order to succeed as a female artist during that era. You can see this astoundingly beautiful portrait for yourself at Musee Marmottan in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.
There is a lesser known surprise at the Passy Cemetery: the tomb of the impressionist Russian painter Marie Bashkirtseff, who studied at the Academy Julien in Paris until she died from tuberculosis at age 25. The tomb is a recreated art studio, not your typical religious monument.
But then Marie Bashkirtseff was not your typical 19th century woman. She is probably best known for her personal journals which were published posthumously in 1889, and which revealed her ambition, her feminism and her struggle for recognition in the male dominated world of art in 19th century France. They were considered radical, narcissistic and highly controversial at the time.
One of my favorite paintings by Marie Bashkirtseff is of female painters in a segregated art studio, the Academie Julian in Paris in 1881. Marie placed herself in the painting in the lower right-hand corner. At the time, it was considered highly controversial for women to paint from live nude models, so it is interesting that this painting shows a young model with a discretely draped cloth. I’m also a little amused by the fact that the artist holding a palette in the foreground appears to have lost her easel.
I highly recommend a walking tour of the Passy Cemetery on a nice day in Paris, followed by a visit to the Musee Marmottan. You’ll be walking in the footsteps of some exceptional women artists.
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