Eighty-four years after his death, Claude Monet may finally leave his beloved village of Giverny and return to the centre of Paris.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering whether to honour a promise made by his predecessor, and move the remains of the Impressionist painter to the Pantheon, the last resting place of France's official heroes. The idea has been revived by the art critic and gallery owner, Guy Wildenstein, to coincide with a vast Monet exhibition that will take place at the Grand Palais in Paris from September to January 2011. This will be the largest Monet exhibition in France for 30 years, assembling more than 200 paintings from museums and private collections across the world.
In 1999, former President Jacques Chirac promised Wildenstein's father, Daniel Wildenstein - the leading expert on Monet - that he would have the painter's remains moved to the Pantheon. The idea was dropped after the then-culture minister insisted Monet - who was born in 1840 and died in 1926 - should remain buried in Normandy in the village churchyard in Giverny, 100km west of Paris, close to his celebrated house and water lily garden.
Wildenstein Jr, who owns a leading New York art gallery, has reopened the issue in a letter to Sarkozy. He points out that the Pantheon's claim to be the last resting place of the official Great and Good of France is undermined by one surprising omission: it contains no celebrated artist, and just one painter, the obscure neo-classicist Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809), a favourite of Napoleon. "I don't want to denigrate [Vien's] talent but all the same," Wildenstein said. "Monet ... influenced an entire generation."
Sarkozy was said to be studying the idea seriously. Late last year, he was accused of a form of political grave digging after he suggested that the body of the novelist Albert Camus should be moved into the Pantheon. Left-wing politicians accused the centre-right President of trying to snatch the body of one of their heroes.
Literary critics complained that a spiritual rebel like Camus should not be placed among the official heroes of the French republic. Proposing the removal of Monet's remains to the Pantheon might help Sarkozy to turn the page - or start a new canvas.
Although Monet and his fellow Impressionists were rejected and lampooned by the French art establishment when they emerged in the early 1870s, they have long since been accepted as one of the greatest symbols of French creativity.
In 1999, Chirac gave a solemn promise to Daniel Wildenstein that he would have Monet's remains removed to the domed building on the Paris left-bank. Nothing happened before the older Wildenstein, who spent 50 years drawing up the official catalogue of Monet's works, died in 2001.
The centre-right President Chirac was sharing power at the time with a Socialist-led government. The then culture minister, Catherine Trautmann, rejected the idea of moving Monet's body. In 1999 she wrote that Monet was "passionately attached to Giverny where he lived for many years and is buried beside his wife.
"Claude Monet was a man of the light and all who appreciate the joy and beauty given by this great artist would wish to see him left in peace in Giverny".