A dire situation for Père Lachaise

Pere Lachaise postcard

The following article is a translation of Chaque jour, des œuvres sont volées au Père-Lachaise. Callebaut, Corinne. Le Figaro. Web. 13 June 2012. Translated from French.

Every day, artwork is stolen from Père Lachaise

The cemetery, one of the most visited sites in Paris, has only 12 guards. Not enough to combat looting by funerary art enthusiasts.

Two angels fly out of Père Lachaise. This could be the beginning of a beautiful story if it weren’t based on two bronze cherubs belonging to a grave in the heart of one of the most prestigious Parisians cemeteries. For the last couple of years, the necropolis faces theft of funerary artwork of all shapes and sizes. In 2007, six noteworthy busts disappeared within a couple of days. “There isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t see artwork disappear”, bemoans Régis Dufour Forrestier, president of the Association of Friends and Enthusiasts of Père Lachaise (APPL). “The most common are the medallions, marble plaques, stained glass, even flower stands, and then, all of a sudden, we notice an entire statue was removed!”

With 400 members, the APPL is one of the most invaluable allies of the cemetery curator, Martine Lecuyer. They inform her of significant disappearances, suspicious behavior and loosened bolts. “We have guards, mainly at the entrances and near famous graves, like Jim Morrison’s” explains Ms Lecuyer. “But it is physically impossible to cover the countless alleys in the cemetery. Furthermore, with the thousands of tourists that visit daily, the task is even more difficult. Some don’t hesitate to leave with ‘a small souvenir’ that they take from the graves.”

Thomas Couture, Division 4

Indeed, the largest nature reserve in Paris, and one the most visited sites in the capital for the famous people buried there, has only a maximum of 12 guards at its disposal. When in doubt, for vehicles in particular, the guards don’t have any other alternative but to call the police. For this reason, some thefts take place during the day. Like the life-size bronze statue of the dancer Serge Peretti that was literally ripped of its pedestal. “For this statue, it was easy to act rapidly because the family noticed it very soon”, continues Ms Lecuyer, “but most graves rarely have visitors, and some none at all, because the family has disappeared. We learn about disappearances too late. This makes administrative procedures difficult because legally, only the heirs can press charges.”

Serge Peretti’s grave 2012 © parismojo.fr
Serge Peretti’s grave 2012 © parismojo.fr

No inventory, no database

Moreover, when police investigate, then encounter another problem. “Without a database or photos of the artwork, our course of action is limited”, explains Bernard Bobrowska, police superintendent for the 20th arrondissement. “An inventory would give us the means to identify and find these objects on the market”.
And yet, it doesn’t exist.

In 2007, after a series of signifiant thefts, the Paris city government appointed a chief cultural heritage officer. “It should be my principle task”, agrees Guénola Groud, who holds this position. “But the cemetery has other urgent issues: saturation in terms of space, natural degradation, dilapidating graves. These are also priorities.”
It is also a sign of the times that keeps Père Lachaise alive.

[photo caption, top] Thomas Couture’s grave (above) is located on a main path in Père Lachaise. The two cherubs (below) disappeared last November.
[photo caption, right] Thomas Couture’s grave before the two cherubs were stolen.

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Update

April 13, 2015
TwLucyOnTheMoon tweeted yesterday that “Serge Peretti finally has a new statue, but the epitaph has disappeared!”.

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