In his seventy years of life, de Pouilly had been the harbinger of European neoclassical and revival architecture in New Orleans. We see his touch on our city streets – in St. Augustine Catholic Church, and most notably St. Louis Cathedral. But his influence was arguably greatest in the city’s cemeteries. De Pouilly’s work is present in nearly every viewpoint of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and 2, and much of Cypress Grove Cemetery. The breadth and innovation of his tomb architecture generated uncountable replications and inspirations, the products of which have shaped our burial grounds.
J.N.B. de Pouilly was born in July 1804 in Châtel-Censoir, France, southeast of Paris. While much of his early life is unclear, it is assumed that in his architectural training he was influenced by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, if not a student of the school himself.
He arrived in New Orleans in 1833, a time in which the French-speaking population of the city hungered for reconnection with Continental styles. He quickly became the architect of note for the city’s First District, designing the St. Louis Exchange Hotel, among many other residential, commercial, and religious projects.
De Pouilly had also transported with him from France the grand styles of Parisian funerary architecture, namely those present in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Founded in 1804, the rolling greenery and stately Greek and Egyptian revival monuments of the cemetery had already become a matter of great interest by the 1830s. Pattern books of Père Lachaise monuments were available by order, and de Pouilly quickly fell into cemetery projects for his French-speaking clients seeking a part of this revolution of funerary architecture.
De Pouilly combined architectural styles and motifs from Greece and Rome, notably the inverted torch, acroterion, and pedimental styles. He also designed Egyptian Revival tombs, best known of which is the Grailhe tomb in St. Louis No. 2. But de Pouilly’s often converged, modified, or entirely reinvented his influences. His combination of revival details and command of materials resulted in definitively unique structures. Conversely, many of his designs were near-exact replications of Père Lachaise monuments.
That de Pouilly worked so prolifically in cemeteries is, in itself, notable. New Orleans cemeteries were (and are) overwhelmingly landscapes of vernacular design, meaning that tombs are created by the builders and seldom by formally-trained architects. There are exceptions: Pietro Gualdi designed the Societa Italiana tomb, and Father John Cambiaso is presumed to have designed the Jesuit tomb (now demolished), both in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. However, this influence was rare. With dozens of tombs attributed to his design, de Pouilly truly stands alone in his role within New Orleans cemetery history.
Yet de Pouilly did work with builders. Based on de Pouilly’s own documents as well as signed work in situ, he contracted stonecutters and tomb builders who served a similar niche as his. Namely, Paul Hippolyte Monsseaux and Florville Foy were the primary executers of his designs. Both Foy and Monsseaux operated stonecutting shops next to the St. Louis Cemeteries – Monsseaux’s workshop was likely next door to de Pouilly’s building depot across from St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. These French-speaking (and in Monsseaux’s case, French-born) builders created many of his best-known works, including the Iberian Society and Grailhe tombs.
De Pouilly’s career was marred by two construction disasters in the 1850s – first, the collapse of the central tower of St. Louis Cathedral while de Poilly was head architect, and second the collapse of a balcony at the Orleans Theatre. From this point onward, his rising star waned, but it appears never to have faded in New Orleans cemeteries.
De Pouilly’s obituary on February 22nd spoke grandly of a man who lived honestly and in service of his profession:
It is a name that will be treasured with fond recollections in the memories of a numerous host of friends and admirers of a man whose noble career should serve as an exemplar to future travelers through a world where principle too often yields the victory to the persuasions of temptation. The noble dead live forever; they leave behind a reputation to which time adds dignity unto dignity, rectitude unto rectitude. J.N. de Pouilly was born in France in the year 1805. On arriving at the age of manhood he adopted the honorable profession of architecture, and in 1833, at the age of twenty-eight, he came to this country and practiced his calling in this city.
Some of our most prominent buildings remain as trophies of his professional skill. He planned the Cathedral, the St. Louis Hotel, the Citizen’s Bank and the church of St. Augustin, besides many other structures of importance.
After a painful and lingering illness, Mr. De Pouilly, hoary with the winters of seventy years, and surrounded by children and other relatives, bade farewell to things of earth. This sad event occurred yesterday, Sunday, 21st.
Below is a gallery of only a portion of de Pouilly’s work, and a few tombs inspired by his designs. Photos by Emily Ford unless otherwise noted.
 Peggy McDowell and Richard E. Meyer, The Revival Styles in American Mortuary Art (Popular Press, 1994), 59.
 Masson, 30-35.
 “In Memoriam – J.N. de Pouilly,” Daily Picayune, February 22, 1875, 2.