Monday, August 1, 2011

Matisse's Masterpiece


For years I've been carrying around this postcard from Chapelle du Rosaire a Vence, France.  It's a post card of an altar and stained glass window, designed by Henri Matisse.  As beautiful as the colors of the window and design of the altar are, that's not why I still have, and admire this postcard.  Behind the altar is a simple drawing of a Dominican friar.  This is what attracted me.  In a way, it reminded me of those games where you are suppose to draw something in one line without taking the pencil off the paper.  In another way, the simple curves and smooth folds of the cloth attracted me to the beauty of the habit.  I wonder if someone who doesn't have any idea of a Dominican friar could appreciate this wonderful drawing.  Probably not, otherwise I think this drawing would be as famous as Mona Lisa.

This post card was tacked to my bulletin board, for years.  All I knew about it was that Matisse had drawn the friar while convalescing.

Then I went to the Chihuly Exhibit, at the MFA.  Something about Chihuly's sea glass art reminded me of the stained glass window in the postcard.  It was the bold, bright color.  So cheerful, optimistic, sunny, smoothly curving....and wonderful.

...and then I read in The Pilot, (June 24, 2011, p. 17) that the Vatican Museum opened a new room for "Matisse designs for French chapel."  I don't know why I read this.  I wasn't thinking of my postcard, at all.  But when I read the article, I knew exactly that the reporter was referring to my postcard.  The article tells us that the Vatican Museum will house the drawings and models that Matisse did for a small chapel in Vence, on the French Riviera.  It went on to explain that Matisse's son, Pierre donated the collection.  It is interesting, because Matisse wasn't religious.  He never gave religion a thought.  (Hard to imagine that someone so blessed with artistic talent to portray God's beauty could not help but reflect upon the creator of it all!)  Henri Matisse was inspired to design this chapel by his nurse and model, Sister Jacques-Marie, O.P., aka Monique Bourgeois.  She asked him for ideas and perhaps a mural; but he was very generous and magnanimous, (as his art) and undertook designing the windows, the chapel, the altar, the furnishings, etc.  Matisse collaborated with Fr. Marie-Alain Couturier, O.P.,  for four years.  And the result---Matisse considers the Chapelle du Rosaire, his masterpiece.

This little Pilot article whetted by curiosity about Henri Matisse.  I've been googling and reading about the Chapelle du Rosaire a Vence, and it's artiste extrodinaire, ever since reading that article.  It was when Matisse was sick and needed a nurse that he met Monique.  She was very kind and beautiful on the inside, as well as the out.  They confided in each other.  Henri and Monique became soul mates, in that she supported him, and he supported her.  He must have been amazed at her discernment of a religious vocation.  No wonder he desired to undertake the chapel project.  I bet he was as excited in giving his talents to God, as Monique was in giving hers.

He used a Dominican friar as a model for the drawing of St. Dominic.  That is who the drawing of the friar, behind the altar, is suppose to represent.  And since Matisse was ill, he had cancer, he would use long bamboo poles with his pencil attached, to draw.  He also had teams of artists to help him.  You see, it was a mammoth project and Matisse poured his soul into it.

It is a masterpiece.

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