|Going to the south of France? Here’s something
worth seeing… Matisse’s chapel in Vence and the Meight gallery in
St. Paul, nearby.
Matisse spent a lifetime
creating colorful (Fauvist) works but an almost simple work will be
with us for a long time, even in its simplicity.
During Henri Matisse’s last years he worked on the
redesign of a small Dominican Chapel, high above the Mediterranean
at the town of Vence north of Cannes.. From the chapel, one can look
out over the sloping valley for miles. It sits, white and blue in
the southern sun, but the miracle of its beauty lies within under
the 42 foot high cross, adorned with gold crescent moons.
A visitor expects something special, or he
wouldn’t be there. Rising after a long drive up the mountain with
the twist and turn so much a part of the beautiful rocky ridge
landscape is the Chapel of the Rosary.
words, he “wanted those entering the chapel to feel themselves purified and
lightened of their burdens.”
|His dream became a reality. This sacred building
is the culmination of achievement during an active life. It follows
an artist’s active life of sincere emotions and beautiful, colorful
(Fauvist) creations. Knowing he was near the end of his life, he
poured onto the job with, love, dedication and thanks.
The woman who took care of him and showed interest in
his work, became a Dominican nun. It was his way of giving thanks to
Monique Bourgeois for her special devotion to him when he had been
ill. He immersed himself in this selfless task..
During recovery from a cancer operation, Matisse
worked from a wheelchair.
The small Dominican chapel became his project as early as
1947. The cornerstone was laid in 1949 and the chapel was finally
consecrated almost four years later. It is modern but rather modest in
design. There is stained glass of blue, yellow and green. See above) It
represents the tree of life. On the wall behind the alter there is a
Franciscan priest, probably St Francis himself.
From the road you first spot the white and blue tiles with
the 42 foot high cross adorned with crescents and golden flames radiating
over the world. On the door is a ceramic that portrays Mary, Jesus and Saint
In the sanctuary there are only simple lines. They are
vigorous yet supple, showing power and peace or calm.
In the nave, one comes upon Mary rising among nature’s
flowers. She offers the Christ-child with his arms open in the attitude of
From the mountainside
|Against one wall simple black drawings of the
Stations of the Cross offer a passionate concept even without color.
It fills the chapel with the artist’s passionate spirit.
I was lucky enough to have the nun in residence to
explain each artistic work. She spoke lovingly about the man and his
Matisse was seventy-seven when he started the
work. The time was filled with hundreds of preparatory drawings,
endless restarts and nights filled with anguish.
Over the years, the master painter executed his ideas with
the aid of colored pieces of paper, set on the walls at the end of a long
stick as he sat in his wheel chair. He watched closely as the implementation
took form. The foundation stone was laid on December 12, 1949 and blessed by
the Bishop of Nice on June 15, 1951. The four years were considered the
‘fruit of his whole working life”. “It isn’t perfect”, he said, “but it is
Matisse died is 1954. Sister Marie-Bourgeois died in 2004.
I remember well our first contact with the Franciscan
sister who told us that the chapel was closed that day, but when she saw
that we were a whole busload of interested people, she opened the doors and
went through a detailed explanation for which we left a well deserved
I walked out onto the slope, looking down to the sea. The
view was superb. But as I turned back and saw the light on the white chapel
that was so perfectly set, I knew it was something I would never forget. The
fact that the artist had designed every detail from the furnishings to the
architecture, I knew I was looking at the work of a genius.
Vence lies on a hillside above the city of Nice, nine Km
from the sea. Beyond is St Paul de Vence where Chagall lived and worked.
There too you can visit the modern Maeght Gallery (pronounced MEGG) with its
geniuses like Miro, Brancusi, Calder, Braque, Bonnard, Chagall and graceful
Giacometti. They are all memorable and worth a short climb to this sacred
part of the Riviera. They receive over 200,000 visitors a year. \for
information call 04 93 32 01 63 or see
There is another decorated chapel worth seeing on the
harbor front of Villefranche. This was done by Jean Cocteau. It is beautiful
but not in the same sense as Matisse’s calming masterpiece.
Check the opening and closing times before you go. It
would be a pity to travel up the mountain and not be able to tour this
remarkable work of art on Ave, Henri Matisse. Make sure you have proper
directions. You might otherwise miss it.
Its more crowded in summer but there are short waiting
times and for art lovers the wait is worth it.
Open: Tuesday-Thursday AM only and Monday-Thursday and
Phone: 04 93 58 03 21
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)