put an advertisement in a newspaper looking for a young, attractive night nurse to help him in his recovery from intestinal cancer (which he never fully recovered from). Monique Bourgeois, a nursing student, became the artist’s aid and helped him continue working and develop his now famous cut-out works, despite being confined to bedrest.
Later, in 1946, when Bourgeois was in the process of becoming a Dominican nun (she became Sister Jacques-Marie), she called on Matisse to help her design a chapel for her sisterhood in the hills of Vence, France. Matisse, who had been born Catholic but was an atheist, was more interested in spirituality than religion, and he proceeded to design a space inspired by natural forms and vibrant color. “I think it is better to pray in beauty,” he would say.
Despite the severity of his illness—at this point, he could barely stand—Matisse worked on the chapel for the next four years, until it was opened in 1951. He had his hands in nearly every area of the design—from the building itself to the cut-out-inspired stained glass windows, mosaics of the Stations of the Cross, candlesticks shaped like anemone flowers, and even the vestments that the priests would wear.
For Matisse, the project was a culmination of his life’s work. “This work required me four years of an exclusive and entiring effort and it is the fruit of my whole working life,” he once said. “In spite of all its imperfections I consider it as my masterpiece.”