Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence
This is the masterwork of Matisse. He had undergone surgery for stomach cancer in 1941and had a long convalescence, during which he reflected on his life’s work and much more. His art production was now constrained and he developed the paper cutout technique that characterized this period of his life. While convalescing he hired a nurse, Monique Bourgeois, who became his model. She eventually became a Dominican nun and through this contact Matisse moved to the Alpes-Maritime hill town of Vence. There he conceived the idea to build a chapel and decorate it with the Story of the Cross even though he was an atheist.
The chapel is a short walk from the terminus of Bus 400 that comes up from Nice. Be sure to check on the opening hours as it does close midday. A lovely addition accommodates the sketches and design thinking of the artist. You will see many shapes from the cutouts here, especially in the decorative religious vestments on display. Go through all of the rooms and pay attention to the drawings especially. You can feel the depth of emotion in the sketches of the Stations of the Cross. Then go into the chapel.
The stained glass windows don’t diminish the light but enhance it. The white walls glow and provide the contrast for the black line drawings. Everything is Matisse here. You will feel the calmness in contrast to the intensity felt earlier when looking at the preparatory drawings. I puzzled over the Stations of the Cross on the back wall of the chapel. The lines are not crisp and defined like I expected. It almost looks messy. There is a photo of Matisse at work with a very long brush extension that must have been hard to control. It felt painful to look at knowing his condition.
We left the chapel and went outside to the courtyard behind. There is a magnificent view of the valley behind and the small garden of flowers is fresh and uplifting.