The list of 19th and 20th century artists who’ve been inspired by the idyllic Mediterranean setting of Côte D'Azur in Southern France is not particularly lengthy, but it is commanding: Renoir, Bonnard, Braque, Léger, Miró, Giacometti, Cocteau, Chagall, Matisse and Picasso take its lead, and there are undoubtedly many lesser-known (not to say amateur) artists who’ve trodden in these great masters’ footsteps.
French artist, Henri Matisse, the Fauvist painter, usually spent his summers in Nice but even more so when he was older and developed cancer.
The story goes that the, then 72-year-old, painter requested a “young and pretty nurse”.
Monique Bourgeois answered his call and, besides tending to Matisse’s recovery, she also put her prettiness to use by posing for him.
In 1943, she – hopefully unrelatedly – decided to join a Dominican convent in the nearby Côte d’Azur town of Vence, where she entered and was named Sister Jacques-Marie.
Matisse later bought a home near the convent, and Sister Jacques-Marie visited him regularly there.
When the Dominican order took up plans for a chapel, she convinced Matisse to help out with the design – he was then 77.
For four years, Matisse worked on the chapel’s architecture, stained glass windows, murals, interior furniture and the priests’ vestments.
As an all-embracing, total work of art, it is considered one of the great achievements of classic modern 20th century artistic expression, its simple white exterior belying the chapel’s high-spirited interior that relies on the power of intense, symbolic colours.
Its three glass-stained windows form a triptych that is made up of just three colours: yellow for the sun, green for the vegetation and blue for the Mediterranean Sea, the clear skies and the Madonna. The chapel’s three murals represent St. Dominic, the Virgin Mary and Child and the Stations of the Cross, painted in black on white tiles.
At Mediterranean coastal retreat, La Réserve Ramatuelle Hotel and Spa, as well as at La Réserve Ramatuelle Villas those three dominating colours, found in the triptych windows in the chapel present themselves in nature, where Matisse originally drew his inspiration. The Azure blue sea is within arm’s reach, Centennial pine trees provide a green canopy and the yellow sun is perennially aloft. With the peacefulness of this Côte d’Azur location in mind, it’s not hard to understand how these coastal villages have influenced the organic, lively lines of Matisse, in both his painting and in his famous paper-cuts.
For more on famed art masters putting their hand to architecture, take a peek at our Journal posts on Renzo Piano's Muse in Lake Garda, and gallerist Bruno Bischofberger's commissioned art-space in Zurich.