The Artists of Green-Wood Cemetery

Like artist William Merritt Chase during his life, I have often enjoyed the beauty of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. In the days before the park was developed, city dwellers (living ones) might have found retreat in nearby Green-Wood Cemetery. Founded in 1838, this “park” for the dead was often enjoyed by the living.

I had known Chase painted scenes in Prospect Park. What I didn’t know on my first trip to the cemetery was that Chase was buried there. In fact, he is one of a number of artists for whom Green-Wood is a final resting place.

The map you can pick up in the gatehouse lists several of these artists including Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge, both known for their stained-glass, as well as Jean-Michael Basquiat. I had also known cabinet-maker Duncan Phyfe was buried there and made a point to find that spot (I wondered if he might be laid on a lyre sofa inside). [Update 11-09-08. Yesterday I learned Joseph Meeks is also there].

On further inspection the list grew. Both Thomas and William Hart, New York landscape painters, are in Green-Wood; as are Currier and Ives. While Asher B. Durand’s most famous work may be on its way to Arkansas, his grave is in Green-Wood. The painter of urban life, George Bellows is there along with John Frederick Kensett, a luminist painter and founder and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The list goes on… Eastman Johnson, Thomas Crawford, Violet Oakley, George Catlin, William Holbrook Beard, Edwin Forbes, I suspect there are more. And this doesn’t touch poets, architects, singers, musicians or actors.

Some might think it morbid to visit a cemetary. Yet these resting places are filled with art and sculpture, both in the monuments and the landscape. Green-Wood Cemetery in particular is also apparently filled with artists. I can understand why they might have thought this was a good place to spend eternity.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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