Room 7: Vence, The Chapel

In 1947 Matisse embarked on designs for the Dominican Chapel of the Rosary in Vence.

He was approached by Sister Jacques, a nun who had nursed him through an illness four years earlier, to advise on the design of one stained glass window. Soon though, Matisse had taken on the whole decorative scheme of the Vence chapel, from the windows to the chasuble robes worn by the priest.

Matisse had to imagine his cut-out window designs transformed into glass, projecting their colours onto the white ceramic panels showing Christ, the Virgin and St Dominic on the opposite walls. These he designed with charcoal attached to a long bamboo ‘wand’ so he could work at a large scale from ground level.

In order to understand the relationships between the different elements he was designing, he turned his entire studio – and later his bedroom – into a kind of replica chapel so he was immersed in it all the time.

Having revised the window designs several times, Matisse was hugely satisfied with the completed project, calling it ‘the result of all my active life’.

Family activity

Matisse was working on huge designs for a chapel, but wasn’t strong enough to stand on a ladder for too long. His solution? A long bamboo ‘wand’ with charcoal attached to the end.

Can you think of any other ways he could have solved the problem? What helps you look at artwork that is up high?

Download the full guide for families [PDF 535 Kb] and bring it with you on your visit to the exhibition, or you can pick up a copy at the exhibition entrance.