During a visit to Paris in September, I spent an afternoon wandering among the tombs and gravestones in the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Montparnasse Cemetery has its fair share of celebrated names (Sartre, de Beauvoir, Baudelaire, for example), but Père Lachaise holds a special attraction for anyone interested in French painting. I quickly fell into trainspotter mode, ticking off the names on my list of artists and writers. Armed with a downloadable map on my iPhone, some were easy to find (Delacroix, Géricault, Wilde, Proust), others less so; the Pissarro family grave is tucked away in a corner and Ingres is modestly placed behind other tombs.
I'm not sure why I felt the need to find the graves and read the names; perhaps it was simply a tourist's impulse to 'do the sights'. As well as being a historical record, any cemetery encourages thoughts about life and death. But at least for me, Père Lachaise added a powerful sense of an artistic tradition.
"When you're in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you - your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics ... and one by one if you're really painting, they walk out. And if you're really painting, YOU walk out."