I wanted to post one of my favourite memories from my Côte d’Azur series which was my visit to The Matisse Chapel, in Vence, not too far away from Grasse.
The Matisse Chapel, known in French as ‘The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence’, is a small chapel built for Dominican sisters in the town of Vence on the French Riviera about a 40 minutes drive from Grasse (here’s my adventures from Grasse). The chapel was built and decorated between 1949 and 1951 under a plan devised by Henri Matisse, and the chapelmalso houses a number of Matisse originals.
I think I mentioned this in another of my previous French Riviera posts, but what I so adore about the South of France is the wealth of incredible painters who called this stunning landscape their home. This was certainly the case for Matisse (1869-1954) who in 1941 developed cancer and underwent surgery in Nice. During the long recovery from his surgery Matisse was cared for by a nurse called Monique Bourgeois, who had answered Matisse’s advertisement seeking for “a young and pretty nurse” (oh Matisse!). Not only did she care for him but she became a huge inspiration for several drawings and paintings that exist today.
In 1943 Monique Bourgeois decided to enter the Dominican convent in Vence, which is not too far from Nice, and it was there that she became Sister Jacques-Marie. Though not in full health, Matisse bought a home in Vence that was not too far from the convent where Monique Bourgeois was stationed. Bourgeois visited Matisse and told him of the plans the Dominicans had to build a chapel beside the girls’ high school which they operated in Vence and asked if Matisse could help with the design.
In 1947 Matisse agreed to help, alongside Father Marie-Alain Couturier, who collaborated on several artistic Catholic churches after World War II, was also involved in the project. The project was regarded by Matisse, at the age of 77, as his “masterpiece”, saying: “For me, this chapel is the achievement of an entire life’s work, the outcome of tremendous, difficult, sincere effort”. Matisse spent more than four years working on the chapel, its architecture, stained glass windows, interior furnishings, murals and the vestments of the priests.
As a fan of Matisse’s work, to see the Chapel in person was so special. Whilst on the outside the simple white exterior has drawn mixed reviews overtimes, many regard it as one of the great religious structures of the 20th century.
I truly felt incredibly emotional visiting the Chapel due to a combination of its pure simplicity and the knowledge that Matisse undoubtedly achieved at the end of his life. And of course, because his cancer had left him so weak that he spent much of his time in bed or confined to a wheelchair. And so tragically, by the summer of 1951, when the chapel was finished, Matisse was so frail that his physician forbade him to attend its consecration. I just found it incredibly moving.
If you do happen to visit this part of France, and love your 20th century art, it is most definitely worth a visit. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any photos inside to show you all, however there’s a blog post I will link you to here that has a fantastic account of The Chapel and interior photos.
Have any of you been to Matisse’s chapel? If so, what did you think?