Rosary Chapel by Matisse

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Rosary Chapel by Matisse

The Rosary Chapel by Matisse is together with the cathedral in the old town Vence’s biggest attraction and one of Henri Matisse’s greatest masterpieces.

The rosary chapel in Vence by Henri Matisse
Matisse’s masterpiece – The Rosary Chapel in Vence

The Rosary Chapel is famous for the stained glass windows

The white rosary chapel by Matisse is famous for its stained glass windows that reflect a myriad of exquisite colors on the white marble floors. Visit the chapel on a day where the sun is shining, and you get all the beautiful light in through the beautiful painted windows. Matisse used only three colors: yellow, green and blue. Yellow symbolizes the sun’s light and God, green symbolizes nature and blue symbolizes the Mediterranean, the sky and the Madonna.

Colorful windows in the rosary chapel in Vence done by Henri Matisse
The intense and colorful windows in the Matisse chapel in Vence

Matisse lived in the city himself and was responsible for everything from architecture, furniture and not least his painting work. The painting work that combines the artistic and the spiritual is a lasting proof of Matisse’s genius. It all took four years (1949-1951), and the work was done in gratitude to the Dominican nuns who had helped him over a serious illness. He started working as a 77 year old and he died 3 years after its completion. He regarded it himself as the masterpiece of his life, the result of a lifetime’s search for the truth.

Matisse moves to Vence

In July 1943, Matisse moves to Vence in fear that Nice, where he has lived for many years, would be bombed during World War II. He stayed at Villa Le Rêve, where he lived until 1949.

The Rosary Chapel – a building across art and faith

During his stay in Vence, Matisse reunited with sister Jacques-Marie, who was his nurse and night nurse in September 1942 after a serious operation in 1941.

She lived in the Lacordaire home not far from “Villa Le Rêve”. In addition to being a model for him, their friendship also became the starting point for what was to become one of Matisse’s most important works – the decoration of the The Rosary Chapel.

In the summer of 1947, the sisters offered Matisse to decorate the oratorio in their convent. But Matisse had bigger ideas and ambitions. He wanted to design a chapel. With the help of architects Auguste Perret and Milon de Peillon, Matisse began work on the chapel for the next four years. At the age of 77 and in poor health, Matisse began the biggest and most challenging work of his entire career.

The “divine” light streams in through the beautiful panes

A tribute to the sisters of the Dominican order which was completed in 1951, just 3 years before Matisse’s death.

The Rosary Chapel by Matisse was not build without problems and crooked glances

The project did not go completely without resistance. Some of the Dominican Sisters were strongly opposed to the work, suggesting that they were confused by the simplicity and abstraction that prevailed within the painter’s work.

Another great artist of Matisse’s day, Pablo Picasso, also stated that he was concerned and upset to see his artist colleague involved in a church project!

Henri Matisse, however, was a steely atheist who once wrote, that ‘my only religion is love of the work to be created and total sincerity’.

Henri Matisse posing in his studio in front of one of his paintings
Henri Matisse in his studio

The chapel was officially inaugurated on June 25, 1951. Since then, it has invited visitors to experience this unique building across art and faith.

Read the biography of Matisse here.

By Tommy Sverre – 2022

1. March to 31. October
Monday          closed
Tuesday          10-11.30 & 14-17.30
Wednesday  14-17.30
Thursday        10-11.30 & 14-17.30
Friday               10-11.30 & 14-17.30
Saturday         14-17.30
Sunday            closed

1. November to 28/29. February
Monday          closed
Tuesday          10-11.30 & 14-16.30
Wednesday  14-16.30
Thursday        10-11.30 & 14-16.30
Friday               10-11.30 & 14-16.30
Saturday         14-16.30
Sunday            closed

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