Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence

A definite must on the ‘visit during my lifetime list.’

Nearing the end of his life, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse began his first architectural and religious commission, a small chapel in Vence, a commune between Nice and Antibes in southeastern France. Matisse began his design for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, or the Chapel of the Rosary, in 1947, completing the chapel in 1951 at eighty-two years old.[1] Matisse viewed the Vence Chapel as his masterpiece, stating in his published statement “La Chapelle du Rosaire”: “This chapel is for me the ultimate goal of a whole life of work and the culmination of an enormous effort, sincere and difficult. This is not a work that I chose but rather a work for which I have been chosen by fate towards the end of the course that I am still pursuing.”[2] Henri Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence received worldwide attention, causing considerable controversy in the Church during its construction, but ultimately captivating the aesthetic and religious admiration of countless visitors, including many members of the clergy. Though not a religious man, Matisse’s use of simplistic form and saturated color, as well as years of study in Dominican tradition and history, culminated in the construction of an unconventional yet immensely spiritual space. Criticized for its unconventional design by the Church, its crude murals by the public, and its overly simplistic and personal design by Modern artists—Matisse’s masterpiece truly challenged the traditions and comforts of post-war France and America, reflected in the heated controversy centered around the modest Chapel. Matisse’s seemingly rudimentary murals and simplistic architecture is the product of immense work and effort by the artist, creating a Chapel whose simplicity leaves room for the beliefs of its visitors and spiritual contemplation by the nuns of Vence.

[1] Gabrielle Langdon, ‘“A Spiritual Space”: Matisse’s Chapel of the Dominicans at Vence,” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 51 (1988), 542.

[2] Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Matisse: His Art and His Public (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1951), 288.

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