Henri Matisse, the great artist, was recovering from an operation for cancer.
Little did he know that his self-proclaimed masterpiece was still ahead of him.
“Night nurse needed,” his job posting read. “Must be young…and pretty.”
Enter his muse, Monique Bourgeois…
The Color of Light, premiering on April 4th, brings to light a little-known story: Henri Matisse set aside his lifelong atheism to help—and to honor—the young nun who gave him a new reason to live.
This first play by Jesse Kornbluth, a celebrated journalist, author and screenwriter, The Color of Light is an unlikely love story that traces the bond that formed in 1942 when Matisse hired a nursing student with a gift for compassion. It is also a religious debate between an artist who sees only the colors of the world and a Catholic who sees the light of God in all things. And it is a passionate argument for the power of art.
Backstory of a spiritual romance: In 1942, Matisse was 72, divorced, living in Nice and bed-ridden after a serious infection followed an operation for cancer. His only companion was his chilly Russian assistant. Needing a night nurse, he hired Monique Bourgeois, a 21-year-old nursing student. In the weeks they were together, Matisse came to love her like a daughter, taught her art and convinced her to pose for several paintings. But when Monique revealed that she was going to enter the convent, Matisse was enraged. The two parted on bad terms.
Matisse moved to Vence. Astonishingly, Monique was also living there—as Sister Jacques-Marie. Despite her vows, she and Matisse resumed their friendship. When the young nun showed Matisse her sketch for a window to brighten the dark, leaky garage that her religious community was forced to use as a chapel, Matisse responded with a better idea: a plan for a new chapel that he would design and pay for, a chapel filled with light and color. It would not contain art, he said—it would be art. Matisse would come to call the sanctuary that he built to honor Sister Jacques-Marie “the crowning achievement of my entire career.”
Sister Jacques-Marie had unwittingly been photographed alongside Matisse for Vogue, and her ties to Matisse made her the innocent victim of prurient gossip. Her Mother Superior opposed the project, but Matisse worked around her, and spent five years creating every detail of the chapel: windows, altar, furnishings and liturgical items. The Chapelle du Rosaire was dedicated in 1951. It is now admired by Catholics and by the world at large as a breathtaking work of art; it is widely known as “the Matisse chapel.” (You can “visit” the chapel here.)
What makes this platonic love story so relevant today? Playwright Jesse Kornbluth recently addressed that matter:
“In our world, old age means a winding down, assisted living, and death in an antiseptic hospital room. But Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire celebrates the exact opposite. It’s a late-life success story, with a creative flowering, a great love, and a good death at home. That story, told as a play, might deliver a transcendent theatrical experience. I dare to hope I’ve done that.”
Performance schedule (April 4th-April 28th):
• Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm.
• General admission, $38; Seniors $35; Students and faculty $19.
•To purchase tickets, call 914-277-8477 or visit https://www.
About JESSE KORNBLUTH, playwright, The Color of Light
Jesse Kornbluth has been a magazine journalist, an author, a screenwriter, an Internet executive—and, now, a playwright.
As a journalist, Kornbluth has been a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and New York, and a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire, and other leading publications.
As an author, Kornbluth’s books include Pre-Pop Warhol, Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken, and a novel, Married Sex. His collaborations include The Collaborative Habit (with Twyla Tharp), and the soon-to-be published Leave Something on the Table (with Frank Bennack).
As a screenwriter, Kornbluth has written for Robert De Niro, Paul Newman and ABC; he also has taught dramatic writing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
The Color of Light is Jesse Kornbluth’s first play. He has recently completed a second, Bringing Home the Birkin, adapted from the best-selling memoir by Michael Tonello.