The south of France – especially the south-east of France – attracted many artists during the decades between 1890 and 1960, several of whom later became household names with paintings and artworks valued at millions of dollars. This we all know.
In a village a few kilometres inland from Cagnes-sur-Mer on the French riviera is a great work of art that will never be sold and is impossible to value – the Matisse chapel at Vence. Matisse himself is said to have claimed it was his greatest work.
Built after world war 2 between 1949 and 1951 it was Matisse who designed every aspect of the chapel after the suggestion of Sister Jacques-Marie (who had worked for Matisse before entering the convent). It is useful to remember that Matisse was 77 years old when he started on the project – most artists create their greatest works when they are rather younger!
Vence chapel is a small, understated building, although the tall cross on the roof gives a clue that it is something out of the ordinary – in particular the crescent moons that decorate it. Not entirely conventional for a church cross.
Inside, the chapel is also not overly ornate. It is not large, and it is built from cool stone. The main feature that attracts the eye is the tall stained glass windows. As we might expect of Matisse in later life, these are simple yet beautiful in design. The only colours used in the windows are yellow, blue and green (sun, sea and sky, nature).
The other decorative feature is three large wall murals, painted on ceramic talls and representing the Virgin and child; Saint Dominique; and the Stations of the Cross.
You can see some pictures of the interior here.
The chapel is one of the great religious-artistic-architectural achievements of the 20th century, along with the Le Corbusier chapel at Ronchamp (further north in France).