Tomb of Victor and Jacqueline Brauner, Cimetière de Montmartre, Paris – (I)

Detail of the funeral monument of Victor and Jacqueline Brauner. Photo: EB August 2021.

[Writer’s Journal I: 06-02-2022 – Cimetière de Montmartre]

In August 2021, with most travel restrictions within Europe eased or lifted, I decided to drive to Paris to work on a manuscript which didn’t move ahead as fast as I wanted. We settled in Montmartre, near the entrance of the 19th century cemetery of the borough of Montmartre, where key parts of my story are staged. As I knew the area and cemetery mainly from memory and from staring at Google Maps and Street View for days on end, it was time to go there, inhale the air, feel the textures and study the layout, to observe the light, the buildings, the people.

Most of the days of our stay we walked along the lanes. Sometimes we wandered aimlessly, attracted by strange vista’s or mysterious monuments. At other times we went through the terrain in a more systematic fashion, taking notes and snapping photo’s that could be used as reference material.

Why I chose this particular part of the city, I will explain in another journal entry. In the following entries I just want to randomly share a few chance encounters with remarkable monuments with whoever reads this. Historical information about the cemetery is scattered. Somehow, this important part of the patrimoine culturel of the city of Paris has eluded the historians. There are many partial histories, but I could not find a general history which also included the occupants, architects and craftspeople who created this fascinating necropolis.

Our first random stop is the tomb of Victor and Jacqueline Brauner, née Abraham (photo: August 2021). It is exquisite in all its strange simplicity and complexity. Two skull-like heads are placed on top of each other in a niche of marble against a vertical slab of marble or sandstone. The heads are mirrored over a horizontal axis and, when you look with squinted eyes, look like those heart-shaped sweets that are around for ages.

One haunting detail, easily overlooked, is the left bottom corner of the niche, continuing only 2 centimetres, breaking the symmetry.

What struck me, was the strange contrast between the geometrical perfection of the tomb itself, and the seemingly nonchalant way it was placed on a layer of disorderly placed stones. As if someone had casually emptied some wheel-barrows filled with debris, and then carefully started to position the architectural elements on top of that. Having no further information on the history of this tomb, I will refrain from speculating about the meaning of this striking configuration.

Victor Brauner (1903-1966) was a painter working in a number of successive styles, such as cubism, expressionism, Dadaism and surrealism.

The epitaph reads: “Pour moi peindre c’est la vie, la vraie vie: MA VIE”. (For me, painting is life, real life: MY LIFE)

(I published a shorter version of this text on my general blog on September 15, 2021.)