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.

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