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A Guide to the 20th-Century Artists’ Graves of New York City

Sphinxes at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
Sphinxes at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless noted)

Following our exploration of the artist graves in New York City from the 19th and early 20th centuries (revisit the mapped list here), we continue into the 20th and 21st centuries. By the 1900s the Victorian mourning craze had faded and the elaborate mausoleum building of the Gilded Age had wound down, further tempered by World Wars I and II. Most of the best known artists to be interred in New York City, such as Piet Mondrian, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Robert Mapplethorpe, all rest beneath humble tombstones, rarely visited by fans. In the conclusion of this two-part series on artist graves of the five boroughs, we visit the places that act as the period in the sentence of their lives, not necessarily reflecting their cultural legacy, but concluding their mortal existence.

This guide is not meant to be comprehensive, but an overview of some notable graves to encourage exploration.

Cypress Hills Cemetery

833 Jamaica Avenue, Brooklyn

Cypress Hills Cemetery stretches between Brooklyn and Queens, part of a huge band of cemeteries that connects the two boroughs, with its main entrance on Jamaica Avenue just below the rumbling J train tracks.

  • Piet Mondrian (1872–1944): The Dutch painter died from pneumonia in New York on February 1, 1944, having fled fascism in Europe. While his “Broadway Boogie-Woogie,” enlivened by his now-iconic, primary-colored geometric lines, hangs prominently in the Museum of Modern Art, his grave goes mostly unvisited and is difficult to spot on a hill of small tombstones with just a small, weather-worn “notable” sign calling your attention to his resting place.
The author visiting the grave of Piet Mondrian (photograph by Zarif Taufiq)
The author visiting the grave of Piet Mondrian (photograph by Zarif Taufiq)
Grave of Piet Mondrian in the snow (photograph by the author)
Grave of Piet Mondrian mostly buried in the snow
Entrance to Cypress Hills Cemetery (photograph by the author)
Entrance to Cypress Hills Cemetery

Saint Johns Cemetery

80–01 Metropolitan Avenue, Queens

The Catholic St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, has an impressive range of New York burials, from fitness hero Charles Atlas to crime villain John J Gotti.

  • Robert Mapplethorpe (1946–1989): The celebrated photographer had his ashes buried beneath his mother’s headstone after his AIDS-related death in 1989. Despite the continued popularity of his charged work, his grave goes mostly unvisited.

Montefiore Cemetery

121–83 Springfield Boulevard, Queens

Montefiore Cemetery in Springfield Gardens is a Jewish burial ground dating to 1908, with rows of hedges bordering the granite tombs.

Woodlawn Cemetery

517 E 233rd Street, The Bronx

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx at the end of the 4 Line is unrivaled in its 20th- and 21st- century NYC artist burials, where painters, sculptors, and photographers rest in its over 400 wooded acres alongside jazz legends like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, and the author of Moby-Dick; or the Whale, Herman Melville.

  • Alexander Archipenko (1887–1964): The Ukrainian painter and sculptor of early Cubist art has a tomb reflective of his influential avant-garde work. He is memorialized with his wife and fellow artist Angelica Schmitz (1893–1957) beneath an abstract angel she sculpted called “Premonition Self Portrait created by Angelica” (1951).
Archipenko Angel in Woodlawn Cemetery
Archipenko Angel in Woodlawn Cemetery
  • Patricia Cronin (1963– ): Still very much alive, Cronin already has a burial plot adorned with her “Memorial to a Marriage” sculpture showing her and her artist wife Deborah Kass in bed together. When she created the piece, same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal in the state of New York, and she considered that someday the sculpture could be a memorial to the marriage they never had.
Patricia Cronin's "Memorial to a Marriage" in Woodlawn Cemetery
Patricia Cronin’s “Memorial to a Marriage” in Woodlawn Cemetery
  • Walt Kuhn (1877–1949): A painter, Kuhn was most influential in organizing the 1913 Armory Show which brought the Modernism of Europe to the United States.
  • Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876–1973): The sculptor is interred with her husband, Archer Huntington, the founder of the Hispanic Society of America, in the family’s 42-foot high mausoleum. Huntington was one of the first women to receive public commissions for sculptures. Her work often captures animals in movement, such as her depiction of Joan of Arc in Riverside Park and her equestrian “El Cid” alongside various beasts at the Hispanic Society.
Huntington Mausoleum, where Anna Hyatt Huntington is interred
Door to the Huntington Mausoleum, where Anna Hyatt Huntington is interred
  • Joseph Stella (1877–1946): Born in Italy, the Futurist painter was inspired by the urban cacophony of his adopted New York, painting both Coney Island and the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Attilio Piccirilli (1866–1945): The most famous member of the Piccirilli Brothers studio in the Bronx, which carved such monuments as Daniel Chester French’s 1920 Abraham Lincoln statue for the Washington DC memorial, Attilio was an accomplished artist in his own right. His “The Outcast” sculpture crouches over the Woodlawn grave of a nephew killed in World War II.
"The Outcast" by Attilio Piccirilli in Woodlawn Cemetery
“The Outcast” by Attilio Piccirilli in Woodlawn Cemetery
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1857–1942): The sculptor and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1930 is buried beneath an elegant granite monument that towers over her family plot. At the Woodlawn tomb of Samuel Untermyer, she created a stunning scene where her sculpted doors open to reveal a trio of figures, one rising to the heavens, another looking down, and a third reaching for the departed.
Samuel Untermyer memorial sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney at Woodlawn Cemetery
Samuel Untermyer memorial sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney at Woodlawn Cemetery
Samuel Untermyer memorial sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney at Woodlawn Cemetery
Samuel Untermyer memorial sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney at Woodlawn Cemetery
  • James Montgomery Flagg (1877–1960): The artist is best remembered for his political posters, in particular his iconic Uncle Sam recruitment campaign. His granite tombstone includes this George Bernard Shaw quote: “The redemption of all things by beauty everlasting.”
The grave of James Montgomery Flagg at Woodlawn Cemetery
The grave of James Montgomery Flagg at Woodlawn Cemetery
  • George Platt Lynes (1907–1955): The photographer has an impressive sarcophagus-shaped monument. Known for his fashion and commercial work in his lifetime, it’s his nude photography from the 1920s to ’50s, mostly published posthumously, that’s carried on his name.
  • Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy (1863–1923): The best artist story of Woodlawn might have to go to this Hungarian-born society portraitist. A princess through a failed marriage, she had a penchant for animal companions, filling her home at the Plaza Hotel with a small menagerie. This included a bear, an ibis, alligators, and more traditional pets like cats and dogs. In 1911, a lion named Goldfleck joined the herd, although sadly the young animal’s life was brief and he’s interred beneath a stone in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, just north of Woodlawn.

Green-Wood Cemetery

500 25th Street, Brooklyn

Overlooking the harbor from Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery is a densely filled Victorian burial ground, with winding paths and old trees contributing to a beautiful burial ground that still attracts a range of New York’s departed.

  • Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988): The most visited artist grave in New York is likely that of Jean-Michel Basquiat. There are always art materials, handwritten messages, and plastic flowers left at the humble granite memorial for the “radiant child” who died young. Although carved with the word “Artist,” it might otherwise go unnoticed in a long line of identical tombstones stretching through one of the more far-flung sections of the cemetery.
Grave of Jean-Michel Basquiat in Green-Wood Cemetery
Grave of Jean-Michel Basquiat in Green-Wood Cemetery
  • George Bellows (1882–1925): Under a worn marble tombstone just bearing the initials “GWB,” the realist painter of boxing matches is interred.
Grave of George Bellows in Green-Wood Cemetery
Grave of George Bellows in Green-Wood Cemetery
An angel overlooking Manhattan from Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
An angel overlooking Manhattan from Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Click here for the Guide to 19th-Century Artist Graves of New York City.

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