Truth Before Beauty
I don’t want you to think that I spend my holidays being a culture vulture, if anything I only accompany Joanna as she knows far more than I do. Last month, we found ourselves in the South of France and were richly rewarded in visiting the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence.
The artist Henri Matisse moved to Vence during WW2. Recovering in 1941 from treatment for cancer from which he nearly died, he was nursed by Monique Bourgeois – he had advertised for ‘a young and pretty nurse’. Soon after, Monique responded to a call to become a Dominican nun. It was through this that Matisse offered to design a chapel for the Dominicans. It was the first time a painter had designed every detail of a Chapel – from the roof tiles, the furnishings, the windows, the crucifix, the robes (the pink ones are unbelievably beautiful!) and of course the paintings, simple lines on large white tiles.
Matisse saw it all as the culmination of his life’s work, in gratitude for his life having been spared. He said, “this work required of me four years of an exclusive and untiring effort and it is the fruit of my whole working life. In spite of all its imperfections I consider it as my masterpiece.”
He was a staunch atheist who once wrote that ‘my only religion is love of the work to be created, and total sincerity’. The following words of his would suggest that’s not the whole story. “The Stations of the Cross is the deepest tragedy of humanity. Faced with this tragedy the artist cannot remain a mere spectator. He must involve himself. These drawings must come from the heart. As long as I have not immersed myself in this violent tragedy, I remain incapable of understanding it. I must not seek beauty, but truth.”