Cimetière du Montparnasse

Colorful Stories of the Dead

Cimetiere du Montparnasse is the perfect forum to interact with some of the characterful deceased residents of Paris; don’t forget your metro ticket and lipstick!

The bustling city of Paris is chock full of cemeteries. More and more grave markers appear as the city’s extensive history continues to grow. Located in a neighborhood with profound artistic significance, Cimetière du Montparnasse is home to a rich variety of creative minds. From the outside, the cemetery lies waiting behind the walls that hide it from the street. Foliage covers the expanse of the wall. When visiting in greener months, the beauty of both life and death can be observed at Cimetière du Montparnasse. Maps at the entrances establish the cemetery as a well visited spot, showing patrons the approximate locations of the graves belonging to those they wish to find. Little cobblestone pathways weave between grave sites and intersect with paved roads that enhance ease of navigation. There is no rhyme or rhythm to the staggered arrangement of tombs down each row. New graves are juxtaposed with old and all are unique, with special flares to commemorate the souls that reside there. The cemetery is crowded with individual gems, and only a few of its many treasures will be noted here.

First is both the grave site and works of sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Brancusi certainly left his mark on this infamous Parisian cemetery. The sculptor is buried in Cimetiere du Montparnasse alongside Alexandre Istrati and Natalia Dumitresco in a very simplistic and unpretentious grave. Brancusi’s body, however, is not the only item of his that lies there. The grave is located a short distance away from one of his earlier sculptures from 1907, ‘The Kiss’. The story behind this beautiful work makes it all the more interesting. Brancusi made the sculpture, which was chosen by his friend, the lover of Tania Rachevskaia, to be placed on her grave in memorial. It was their tragic love affair that led to her suicide in 1908. ‘The Kiss’ was the third sculpture of its kind in a series. Unfortunately visitors today, can no longer view the sculpture which has been unceremoniously surrounded by wooden boards. The reasoning for this is still widely unknown, but the best guesses point towards either restoration or family motives. Either way, thanks to his grave, Brancusi’s presence remains.

Another interesting member of Cimetiere du Montparnasse is famous photographer Man Ray. Adorning Man Ray’s grave is the quote “unconcerned, but not indifferent… Love Juliet”, from the woman who would be soon to join him in resting there, his wife. The quote alludes to his unique character and provocative works. His muse, ‘Kiki de Montparnasse’, also resides at the cemetery. Kiki made an appearance modeling in many of Man Ray’s works. As a legendary figure of the Montparnasse neighborhood, it is appropriate that she be buried there as well. Aside from serving as Man Ray’s muse and a model for many other artists Kiki was a singer, socialite, and actress. Ernest Hemingway claimed that Kiki “dominated the era of Montparnasse more than Queen Victoria ever dominated the Victorian era”.

Cimetière du Montparnasse is also home to the grave site of Jean Paul Sartre. Jean Paul Sartre was a very well-known philosopher. He is best recognized for his work in developing the concept of existentialism. There are two unique things about this grave that Sartre shares with Simone de Beauvoir, author of The Second Sex and an existentialist herself. The grave is often littered with Metro tickets weighted down by pebbles of various sizes and lipstick stains. It's a bit of a stretch from flowers, but there is a reasoning behind it. While the reasoning is not completely known or understood, it is assumed that the Metro ticket tradition is derived from Sartre’s support of a Chinese Maoist group who gave free tickets out when prices shot up. Another theory relates the tickets to the Boulevard Voltaire riots. The brightly tinted lip marks smacked upon the face of the headstone arise from both the affection of Sartre’s fans as well as the recognition of his and Simone de Beauvoir’s open relationship.

The rich history of Cimetiere du Montparnasse does not end here. If interested in learning more about the cemetery’s contents, visit the recommended links below to see a full list of the cemetery’s inhabitants as well as a map.