Articles

A Guide to the 19th-Century Artists’ Graves of New York City

Sunset at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn (photograph by the author)
Sunset at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Cemeteries are like indexes of a city’s history, listing the names of its deceased from famous to forgotten in an endless litany. With over two centuries of art, New York City’s realms of the dead are also footnotes to visual culture in the five boroughs, where Hudson River School painters, great influencers of abstraction, and sculptors of public art are all interred.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-25-at-11.13.51-PM
>>CLICK FOR INTERACTIVE MAP<<

Some are sites of pilgrimage, others go overlooked among the hundreds of thousands of graves that claim Gotham ground.

For a two-part series on artist graves in New York, we’re starting with the 19th to early 20th century, when portraiture, decorative arts, and landscape art were part of an emerging, distinctly American style of art. (For part two on 20th and 21st century graves, click here.)

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

Green-Wood Cemetery

500 25th Street, Brooklyn

Up on the highest point in Brooklyn, wedged between Park Slope and Sunset Park on 478 acres overlooking the harbor, Green-Wood Cemetery feels like a portal to the 19th century with its Victorian monuments, winding paths, and old, horse-shaped carriage hitches lining the roads. It’s also long been one of the most popular places for burial for the New York City elite, although for every Boss Tweed or Leonard Bernstein there are a thousand ordinary citizens resting beneath modest tombs.

  • Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933): The decorative arts luminary was celebrated for his Art Nouveau stained glass, and Tiffany Studio glass and monuments are in cemeteries around New York City, although Tiffany’s own grave is a simple, carved headstone.
  • Samuel Morse (1791–1872): The Morse code inventor was also a painter of portraits with a Calvinist solemnity, and is interred beneath a three-sided monument on a hill which includes a plaque from the Morse Telegraph Club.
Grave of Samuel Morse (photograph by the author) (click to enlarge)
Grave of Samuel Morse
  • John LaFarge (1835–1910): Buried in a hillside mausoleum, the decorative artist was influential in the popularization of stained glass, characterized by a rich luminescence.
  •  Emma Stebbins (1815–1882): One of the first prominent female sculptors, she’s best known for her 1873 “Angel of the Waters” at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park. Her name is barely legible on an incredibly deteriorated headstone at her family plot.
Grave of Emma Stebbins (photograph by the author)
Grave of Emma Stebbins at Green-Wood Cemetery
  • William Merritt Chase (1849–1916): The American Impressionist founded the Chase School of Art, which evolved into Parsons The New School for Design.
  • George Catlin (1796–1872): The 19th-century painter of the Old West is known in particular for his portraits of Plains Indians. In 2012, a sculpture by John Coleman called “The Greeter” based on Catlin’s portrait of Black Moccasin, a Hidatsas chief, was unveiled at his gravesite.
Monument to George Catlin (photograph by the author)
Monument to George Catlin by John Coleman in Green-Wood Cemetery
Grave of George Catlin in Green-Wood Cemetery
Grave of George Catlin in Green-Wood Cemetery
Grave of William Holbrook Beard (photograph by the author)
Grave of William Holbrook Beard in Green-Wood Cemetery
Grave of François Fauvel Gouraud (photograph by the author)
Grave of François Fauvel Gouraud

Woodlawn Cemetery

517 E 233rd Street, The Bronx

Located at the end of the 4 train in the Bronx, Woodlawn Cemetery is one of the city’s most stunning burial grounds, with mausoleums for some of the most prominent families in New York City, from Julliard to Woolworth.

  • Thomas Nast (1840–1902): The cartoonist notably satirized the corruption of Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed. His drawings were so popular that when Tweed attempted to flee to Spain after his conviction for forgery and larceny, he was recognized due to Nast’s cartoons.
Kinsley Angel sculpted by Daniel Chester French at Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx
Kinsley Angel sculpted by Daniel Chester French at Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx

Cemetery of the Evergreens

1629 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn

Opened in 1849, just over a decade after Green-Wood, the Cemetery of the Evergreens is divided between Queens and Brooklyn, with around 526,000 interments.

  • Francis Guy (1760–1820): The painter whose “Winter Scene in Brooklyn” is in the Brooklyn Museum, was exhumed from his original burial place at Sands Street Methodist Church to Evergreens, although no marker for him survives.
  • Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904): The landscape artist extensively traveled in South America, painting the tropical ecology in the 19th century, and now has a granite stone alongside his wife.
  • Winsor McCay (1867/71-1934): The cartoonist created the comic Little Nemo at the beginning of the 20th century after illustrating magazines at the end of the 19th, which was one of the first comics to play with the standard panel format in a dreamlike story.

Trinity Churchyard

75 Broadway, Manhattan

Located at Wall Street and Broadway, Trinity Church is surrounded by 17th- and 18th-century graves, among the earliest stone carvings in the city.

  • William Berczy (1744–1813): Born in Germany, the painter worked for a time in Upper Canada, and arrived in New York during the War of 1812. Unable to return, he ended up dying on the island.
Flying soul headstone in Trinity Churchyard
Flying soul headstone in Trinity Churchyard

Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum

601 West 153rd Street, Manhattan

Trinity Church, running short on burial room and with the enforcement of a ban on interments south of Canal, expanded to Washington Heights in 1842 and the cemetery continues to operate on a slope overlooking the Hudson River, now as the last active cemetery in Manhattan.

  • John James Audubon (1785–1851): The artist and ornithologist is memorialized with a huge 16-foot Celtic cross, carved all over with birds and mammals as a tribute to his nature illustration.
Grave of John James Audubon
Grave of John James Audubon in Trinity Cemetery
Detail of birds on Audubon's grave
Detail of birds on Audubon’s grave in Trinity Cemetery

Friends Quaker Cemetery

Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Pre-dating Prospect Park and now consumed by it, the Friends Quaker Cemetery is closed to the public, although you can view its 1820 burial ground through the fence on Center Drive not far from the Nethermead. The simple headstones include one for actor Montgomery Clift.

  • Elizabeth Coffin (1850–1930): The Brooklynite born into a Quaker family was one of the “New Women” of the 19th century who never married. Coffin instead focused on her painting and on opening trade education to women. She’s cited as the first person in the United States to earn a master’s of fine arts, graduating in 1876 from Vassar.
Friends Quaker Cemetery in Prospect Park (photograph by the author)
Friends Quaker Cemetery in Prospect Park

View the Google map of 19th-century artists’ graves in New York City. Part 2 on 20th and 21st century artist graves is here.

comments (0)