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Riviera art and a mysterious Dutchman

One of the great attractions of the Riviera is the quality and exhibition of its art. Not that many great painters were actually born there but many were drawn by its light, lifestyle and opulence to resettle: Miro, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall all moved here.

One of the most interesting stories is that of Henri Matisse.

Suffering from incurable cancer after the war aged 77 he had a miraculous recovery. He advertised for a pretty nurse and a Monique Bourgeois acquired the post.

She proved to be a muse, model and companion for the ageing artist who bought a house in Vence.

She then became a nun in the Dominican convent in Vence and out of gratitude to her and for his recovery Matisse built his chapel for the Order which opened in 1951.

We visited it yesterday.

I was struck by its simplicity. The building is white with clean lines. The building houses an exhibition of Matisse’s simple preparatory drawings.

The chapel itself has wonderful stained glass windows of  yellow and blue.

The altar set at an angle does not face the pews. Simplicity is the key or as Matisse put it:

Simple colours can act on the feelings all the more powerfully as they are simple.”

He wanted something far less crowded and grand than Notre Dame and he succeeded. As the was in a wheelchair by then he was forced to paint with a long brush.

We had time to visit the Maeght Foundation.

This houses as its principal attractions has two large and magnificent pictures of  Bonnard and Chagall and the stained glass windows of Miro.

Sadly the latter’s space was shared by an exhibition of arranged charcoal logs of of doubtful quality, the drab colours of the wood doing little for the vibrant blues of the stained glass windows.

To complete our art tour, we went to St Paul. We looked at the art galleries in the village.

At one such Bob rested his weary legs on a bench which proved to be a sculpture.

We could only marvel at the pictures on display in the dining room of the Colombe d’Or. Because of the rain we ate in the dining room where they are exhibited.

We fell into conversation with our Dutch dining neighbour who had been visiting there for 30 years . He said he was a trustee of the Royal Foundation but we could find no evidence of this . It was odd as he was a courteous, informed man who seems to have no wish to impress. Nor indeed expect anything from us. The Mysterious Dutchman of St Paul – sounds like a Somerset Maugham short story.

An almost perfect day was marred at the last.

The driver dropping us off in our narrow street has necessarily to block the traffic.

The French are impatient drivers and started  to hoot.

This attracted two policewomen who promptly booked the  driver.

It’s just as well the area has art exhibited of this quality as the locals would hardly entice you back.






About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts