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Final Farewell: The Culture of Death and the Afterlife

Funerals, Burials and Mourning

back to Funerals, Burial & Mourning section homeMourning WearMourning AccessoriesThe Funeral Tomb of the Old White KingAt Durer's Grave(Approaching the Guillotine)James & Lonise BiasLenin at the Palladiumto Final Farewell exhibition beginning

Untitled [Approaching the Guillotine on Royale]

Untitled - Approaching the Guillotine on RoyaleFrancis Lagrange was an artist who was convicted of art forgery and counterfeiting and then sentenced to Devil’s Island, a notoriously brutal penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana. There, Lagrange was placed in solitary confinement, and according to his autobiography, painted in secret, using brushes made from dog hair and house paints smuggled in by guards. By the light of a small grate in his cell, he began making paintings that recorded his experiences as an inmate.

Francis Lagrange
(French, 1894-1964)
Untitled [Alternative title: Approaching the Guillotine on Royale]
from the Devil's Island series
1955
Oil on canvas
(2004.81)
Transferred from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for
Administrative Services, University of Missouri-Columbia

This painting shows a man being forcefully led to a guillotine for execution. To the right of the man, a priest raises a cross, blessing the man in hopes for the redemption of his soul after death. In the brutal prisons of the past, such as Devil’s Island, deaths of prisoners were frequent and often happened with little recognition. Here, a simple casket rests in front of the guillotine to catch the prisoner’s beheaded body. The viewer is left wondering if a funeral ceremony will even be held and whether the man’s death will be mourned at all. Lagrange’s grim, impersonal vision of death contrasts with others in this section where the deceased are elaborately commemorated.

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