The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence


LOCATION: 466 Avenue Henri Matisse, 06140 Vence, France
NEAREST AIRPORTS: Nice Côte d’Azur Airport and a 1 hour drive
Walk into a Matisse masterpiece by visiting the ‘Matisse Chapel’, or The Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, in the Cote D’Azur. A 15 minutes’ walk from Vence, a medieval walled village spilling over with cheese, lavender and baguettes, the chapel is an entirely different way to experience the art of this master.

The chapel itself is a catholic chapel of the Dominican order and is still in use today by the nuns who have been tasked to look after it. Every detail of the chapel was designed by Matisse, from the architecture, the stain glass windows, the murals and the priest’s vestments, all were carefully executed to his design. The build took 4 years from start to finish, and though not particularly religious himself, he obviously paid much loving attention to each aspect of the space. It is now considered one of the greatest religious sanctuaries of the 20th century, though the stark white exteriors have been subject to criticism.

For the stain glass, Matisse limited his palette to three colours which does afford a calm yet vibrant simplicity as light beams through. The murals are black lines drawn over white tiles which surprised me somewhat. But as I sat looking at them in my Matisse designed chair, I did feel an air of effortlessness radiating from the works.

The vestments are totally mad. On display in glass cabinets, they are colourful and bold and lack and sign of sombre priestly blacks of browns. They get pulled out on special occasions to be donned by the lucky priests.

The whole project came about after Matisse was diagnosed with cancer, treated and recovered at the age of 72. He advertised for a “young and pretty nurse” to look after him during his treatment and Monique Bourgois answered the call. They struck up a friendship and she even ended up posing for some of his paintings. I would like to think that regardless for her friendship with Matisse, Bourgois joined a convent in Vence and it was here, once Matisse also moved to Vence, that they started to discuss the possibility of a chapel.

The chapel is a quiet place. It isn’t a loud cacophony of colour and architectural features. It Is humble and simple and I really like visiting it. Matisse finished it at the age of 81 and died three years later immensely proud of what he achieved. And justifiably so.  

There is a small fee of 7€ to enter the chapel, as well as a modest shop selling postcards and guides. All proceeds go to the upkeep of the chapel.