Angels and Devils: 6 Artist’s Chapels in the South of France

When Matisse created his Chapel in  Vence, it ignited  a bit of a competition among the artists living in the south of France.  What followed was: Chagall’s Museum of Biblical Messages in Nice;

Image from Chagall's Museum of Biblical Messages

Chapelle Cocteau or Chapel Notre Dame de Jeruselem in Villefranche-sur-Mer;

Chapelle Cocteau or Chapel Notre Dame de Jeruselem in Villefranche-sur-Mer

The Cocteau Chapel, Villefranche-sur-Mer

Stained Glass Window in Cocteau's Chapel

Picasso’s Museum of War and Peace, housed in a chapel in Vallauris;

Picasso's Museum of War and Peace, Vallauris

Espace Bonnard, Le Cannet,  while not a chapel is housed in an ancient chapel;

Espace Bonnard, Le Cannet

and finally Le Corbusier’s Chapel of Nôtre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp.

Le Corbusier's Chapel de Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp

Interior of Le Corbusier's Chapel

Interior of Le Corbusier's Chapel

Too bad there wasn’t reality TV then. Can you imagine a face to face battle between Matisse, Chagall, Cocteau, Bonnard, Picasso and Le Corbusier? And what would it be called? So you think you can pray? I think I would call it Angels and Devils.

Matisse Painting from his Sick Bed

If you go:

Matisse Chapel, Vence, France

Chagall’s Museum of Biblical Messages, Nice, France

Chapelle Cocteau or Chapel Notre Dame de Jeruselem in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France

Picasso’s Museum of War and Peace, Vallauris, France

Espace Bonnard, Le Cannet, France

Le Corbusier’s Chapel of Nôtre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp France

Books of interest:

Experiencing Matisse

While everyone is reconsidering Matisse (Matisse: Radical Invention, Museum of Modern Art, New York, until October 11th), I thought I would weigh in with my own recollection of Matisse.

When I first visited what we know as the Matisse Chapel (The Rosaire Chapel – Ville de Vence) in the 1980s, it still functioned as a chapel and was open to the public only for certain hours on certain days.  When I arrived there it was closed and I feared that my trip had been in vain. Later, when I told a friend that I was unable to get in, he said – don’t worry I will take you to the service on Sunday. You can get in then.

When I entered the Chapel, whose interior I knew by heart  from the many photos I had seen of it, I was struck by how bleak it looked. The walls with the black and white drawings of Mary and in the back of the room, the Stations of the Cross, had  shiny white tiles that made me think of a public bathroom. Why would Matisse do that? Clearly he had considered every single aspect of the chapel. Why this?

Matisse Chapel

We sat in the pews. The nuns entered and sat in a separate section. Then the Priest came in wearing Matisse’s original robes, the ones he designed using the paper cut outs. The Priest, himself, looked like a Matisse drawing. His head was nearly bald and quite broad at the top.

Priest in Matisse Chasuble

Priest in Matisse Chasuble

Matisse design for Chasuble

To my left were the stained glass windows — blue, yellow and green. Once everyone was seated I noticed a sliver of light on the wall — just a thin set of lines running down the wall. As the service progressed the light spread across the wall until the end of the service when the wall was not only covered with light, but everyone in the congregation was enveloped by the light.  Matisse’s choice was suddenly  brilliantly obvious.

The Matisse Chapel

If you go:

The Rosaire Chapel aka the Matisse Chapel

Vence, France

Video of Matisse Making a Cut-out”:


Books of Interest:

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