In July 1943 Henri Matisse, fleeing the risk of bombs falling on Nice (he was living in the Régina on the hill of Cimiez) moves to Vence, in the Villa Le Rêve, where he will stay until 1948.
The Dominican Sisters live in the Lacordaire home in Vence, not too far. Matisse is reunited with Sister Jacques Marie, who was his nurse and night carer in September 1942, after serious surgery in 1941. During these difficult times, a bond of affection and esteem had developed between them, Sister Jacques, then Monique Bourgeois, also became her model between 1942 and 1943.
I started with the secular and now in the evening of my life, I naturally end with the divine.Henri Matisse, comments reported by Bishop Rémond, in L’Art sacré, July-August 1951
In 1947, Sister Jacques mentions the Sisters’ wish to have a chapel for their community; advised by Matisse, she works on a stained glass project. On December 4, 1947, the master’s meeting with Brother Rayssiguier, a novice Dominican brother who came to visit him will change everything. The latter, passionate about modern art and convinced of his positive influence on religious art, manages to convince Matisse to produce not only stained glass but also the whole of the chapel, a synthesis of all his past efforts.
With the support of Father Marie-Alain Couturier, the collaboration with architect Auguste Perret and master glassmaker Paul Bony, Henri Matisse, back in the Régina in 1949, gradually transforms his vast apartment into a studio and on the walls he displays his models, mostly real size.
Thus, the first stone was laid on December 12, 1949 by Mr. Rémond, Bishop of Nice, who consecrated it on June 25, 1951. In Matisse’s absence too tired to attend the inauguration, Mr. Rémond read a letter from the artist:
« This work has taken me four years of exclusive and diligent work, and it is the result of my entire working life. Despite all its imperfections I consider it to be my masterpiece. »
The Matisse Museum in Nice has important works linked with the Vence Chapel: 13 models of chasubles and priestly clothing, 3 models of the chapel, 2 studies for La Jérusalem céleste stained glass window and the model for Les Abeilles, 2 large drawings linked with St. Dominic.