St Paul-de-Vence

Leger mosaic at Colombe d’Or

I’m still gallivanting around the south of France and a couple of days ago, en route to Nice, we stopped at Vence and St-Paul-de-Vence. These two small towns possess an incredible art history that I was keen to drag my family through. So thankfully the first history lesson came dressed as lunch…

Colombe d’Or in St-Paul-de-Vence is an unassuming but nonetheless rather lovely hotel with a lovely terraced garden where you can sit and have lunch with the ghosts of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse et Georges Braque, et al. The hotel wasn’t always so fancy but an advantageous location and a rather nice view meant that for a number of years the likes of Picasso and his pals would come to Colombe d’Or to eat and stay. In exchange for board and lodging they would pay with a work of art – a casual sketch, a small sculpture - so that today, the walls of Colombe d’Or drip with minor works by major 20th century artists. The terrace comes with its own Ferdinand Leger mosaic…

A small Tinguely

Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence, France.

And after a pretty spectacular lunch and a bottle of local rosé (when in the south of France…) we made the short drive to Vence to visit the Chapelle du Rosaire. This iconic piece of architecture was designed and decorated by Matisse during the last years of his life as a thank you present to the Dominican nuns who had cared for him while he underwent treatment for cancer. 

It’s a modest, modern building and the stained glass windows and wall paintings are pure Matisse in their bold lines and striking colour. There’s a distinct lack of heavy-handed, sombre, visual religiosity that brings a lightness to the encounter, both intellectually and visually. It’s a calm, contemplative space and sitting there, it’s impossible not to think about Matisse reflecting on his own mortality as he went about realising his vision. It was a brief, poignant visit before heading on to the gelaterias of Nice. But honestly, there is something so dazzling about living and travelling in Europe that affords you these almost insouciant encounters with major moments in (art) history. God I love it.