Vestments and the Art of Henri Matisse



In this unit of study the students were exposed to the art of Henri Matisse. He designed the Rosary Chapel in Venice, France at  the Dominican nuns’ chapel at the age of 80.  The church is amazing. Every aspect of the church was designed by Matisse including the vestments that the priest wore. The entire chapel is an artistic experience. The images on the vestments included those symbols of faith and those of the landscape that surrounded him on the Mediterranean.  Henri Matisse created vestments that were alive with colour and symbolism.


The children viewed slides of his chapel and the vestments.  They were then given the task of designing new vestments that could be used in a church. The children often commented that Father Senger would look good in their design.


The children created several rough drafts for the vestments as Henri Matisse did. They also painted their own pieces of paper for the main cloth and the collage bits as Matisse did. Matisse was very particular about colour and I wanted the children to be the same. Therefore, we did not use construction paper green, but rather created our own. 


The stories and symbols on the vestments are unique, colourful and vibrant.  The children’s love of colour is very evident in all the pieces. The children were conscious about the church calendar and knew which colours should pertain to which parts of the church year. However, they made some really strong arguments for new colours of vestments so I let them explore and create.


Who was Henri Matisse?

Matisse, Henri (äNrē' mätēs') [key], 1869–1954, French painter, sculptor, and lithographer. Along with Picasso, Matisse is considered one of the two foremost artists of the modern period. His contribution to 20th-century art is inestimably great.

Matisse began to study law and, during an illness in 1890, took up painting, thereafter forsaking law entirely. He studied first with the academician Bouguereau and then with Gustave Moreau, in whose studio he met many painters who would soon attain prominence with him in the fauvist movement. Matisse's earliest work was exceptionally mature. He explored impressionism (e.g., La Desserte, 1897; Niarchos Coll., Athens) and, coming into contact with the theories of Paul Signac, drew upon neoimpressionist styles as in Luxe, calme et volupté (c.1905; private coll.). To learn aspects of composition he made variations on the works of the old masters in the Louvre, a practice he continued for many years (e.g., Variation on a Still Life by de Heem, c.1915; S. A. Marx Coll., Chicago).

Matisse began exhibiting in 1896 and at first was unsuccessful. In 1905 at Collioure, a Mediterranean village, he began using pure primary color as a significant structural element. His portrait of Mme Matisse, known as The Green Line (1905; State Mus., Copenhagen), exemplifies this abstract, intellectual use of color. In 1905 he exhibited at the Salon d'automne with the group of artists called fauves [Fr.,=wild beasts], so named for their remarkable, exuberant use of color. Matisse became a leader of fauvism, delighting in vivid color for its sensual and decorative value.

After the demise of fauvism Matisse continued to use color to communicate his joy in bold pattern and striking ornament, e.g., in The Moorish Screen (1921; Phila. Mus. of Art) and Lady in Blue (1937; private coll.). He experimented frequently with different sorts of expressive abstraction, as in The Blue Nude (1907; Baltimore Mus. of Art), Mlle Landsberg (1914; Phila. Mus. of Art), and The Piano Lesson (1916; Mus. of Modern Art, New York City), but he rejected cubism in order to develop his own ideas. In 1908 Matisse wrote out his theories for La Grande Revue; he wished, if possible, to paint a visual representation of his emotional reaction to a subject rather than its realistic appearance. By 1909 the artist's fame was worldwide.

Matisse's early sculpture reveals an interest in African art and in Rodin. Matisse designed for the ballet (1920, 1938) and illustrated works by Mallarmé (1932) and Baudelaire (1944), among many others. His superbly simple line drawings rank among the greatest works of graphic art of the 20th cent. In his last years he also made brilliant paper cutouts and stencils (e.g., Jazz, 1947; Philadelphia Mus. of Art), as gay and as strong in design as his earliest work. When he was nearly 80, Matisse volunteered to decorate the Dominican nuns' chapel at Vence, France. His fresh and joyous works for the chapel include black-and-white murals, semiabstract stained-glass windows, a stone altar, a bronze cross, carved doors, and an array of colorful vestments. His work on the chapel was completed in 1951, and Matisse declared it his masterpiece.

The largest collections of Matisse's works are in the Baltimore Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York City; and the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.


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Images coming soon !!!!!