The Matisse Chapel
(Chapelle du Rosaire)
This small Dominican Sisters' chapel in the town of St. Paul de Vence on the French Riviera was built and decorated between 1949 and 1951 under a plan devised by Henri Matisse.
|The town of Saint Paul de Vence is located on a rocky promontory overlooking Nice.|
From 1947 to 1951, Matisse was totally involved with the chapel. He drew up the plans and attended to all the details of its decoration: stained glass windows, ceramics, stalls,stoup, cult objects, and even priestly ornaments. This was one of the few times a painter was involved in all details of a monument.
|The simple white exterior is deceptive, as
it is regarded as one of the great religious structures of the
The public entry is to the left.
The first stone of the chapel was laid in 1949. The inauguration and consecration of Notre Dame of Rosaire, took place in 1951. Matisse was quoted as saying, “this work required of me four years of exclusive effort and it is the fruit of my whole working life. In spite of all its imperfections I consider it as my masterpiece“. The story begins in 1941.
That year, Matisse developed cancer and underwent surgery in Nice. During the long recovery he was particularly helped by a young part-time nurse, Monique Bourgeois, who took care of him. In 1943 Monique decided to enter the Dominican convent in nearby Vence, and she became Sister Jacques-Marie; she also became Matisse's muse.
|Monique in Grey Robe by Matisse, 1942.
The story of the friendship and collaboration of Matisse and Sister Jacques-Marie is related in her 1992 book Henri Matisse: La Chapelle de Vence
Matisse eventually bought a home in Vence, not far from the convent where the young nun was stationed. She visited him and told him of the plans the Dominicans had to build a chapel beside the girls' school which they operated. Matisse was invited to help with the design of the chapel. Although he had never done anything like it Matisse agreed to help. While he had been baptized a Catholic, he had not practiced the religion for years. He would design the chapel as an artistic challenge.
At the age of 77, Matisse began the project and spent the next four years working on all aspects of the chapel, its architecture, stained glass windows, interior furnishings, murals, and even the vestments of the priests.
The chapel is in an L shape, with the longer portion just inside the front door. Visitors enter (right) and descend a flight of stairs to the vestibule, entering the nave from the vestibule.
The altar is placed at an angle where the two segments of the L join. Both segments face the altar. The chapel is 49 feet long by 20 feet wide. The larger segment is for the students and visitors while the shorter section was reserved for the nuns who live and teach at the school.
The association of the Dominican order and the Rosary date back to the early 13th century: According to tradition, the concept of the rosary was given to Saint Dominic in an apparition by the Virgin Mary in the year 1214 in the church of Prouille.