A Thing of Beauty

"There are always flowers for 
those who want to see them."
-Henri Matisse
The other day in class, I proposed a question to the students in my Survey of Western Art II course: "When was the last time you saw something so beautiful that it brought you to tears?"  For the first time, I actually witnessed my students in a deeply contemplative mood.
The reason we had arrived at this discussion in class was because of one man: Monsieur Henri Matisse. We had just studied one of his very last projects, his little chapel in Vence, France.  In 1949, Matisse had begun the chapel as a dedication to the nun who nursed him back to health after a cancer treatment.  When he started work on the space, he was a little old man, a little old man who seemed deeply aware that this may be his final artistic breath, his masterpiece.
This space, this little jewel box of a chapel, is one of those rare artworks that truly does move people to tears.  While much of the chapel is an austere white, Matisse crafted glorious blue and yellow stained glass windows, literally allowing the room to glow with colored light and abstract biomorphic shapes.
There may be no other artist in history who was so moved by color as Matisse.  Color was his preferred instrument from his early days as a Fauve until the end of his life when he was working in paper collage.  What's compelling about the chapel though, is that the colors start to drain from his palette.  Aside from the windows, all of the murals are limited to stark black and white calligraphic paintings.  He lived his life in so much color that near the end, he finally moves towards a simpler, more spiritual array of shades.  
If you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in the sunny land of the French Riviera, take a day trip to the tiny hill-side village of Vence.  Climb the cobbled streets and make your way to Matisse's Chapelle du Rosaire.  Regardless of what or who you believe in, this tiny church is the ideal place to sit quietly, ruminate and consider your own life.  It might just bring you to tears.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful writing, Pink Frenchie.
    An artist's last painting, portrait,symphony or other work of art always has great poignancy more so if the artist knew it would be his last as in the case of Matisse.


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