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Scholars Focus Eye on Matisse


Filmmaker Barbara Freed, Ph.D., and writer Patricia Hampl, Ph.D., met for the first time to discuss their shared fascination with the French artist Henri Matisse at “The Eye of Matisse, The Mystery of God,” a lecture and screening sponsored by Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, on May 22 at the Lincoln Center campus.

Patricia Hampl Photo by Leo Sorel

Hampl, author of Blue Arabesque, a Search for The Sublime(Harcourt 2006) joined Freed, director of A Model for Matisse(2003), to discuss the intersection of their projects. Hampl’s book deals with her search to understand Matisse’s painting, “Woman Before an Aquarium.” Freed’s film documents the little-known friendship between the artist and a French nun in the Dominican order.

“Their works are very different, and yet, they converge,” Margaret Steinfels, co-director of the Center on Religion and Culture, told the standing-room-only audience.

Hampl, the Regents Professor in the Department of English, University of Minnesota, was inspired to write the book after a chance encounter with Matisse’s painting left her “mesmerized.” On her journey to discover her reaction to the painting, Hampl visited the village of Vance, in the south of France, where she encountered Sister Jacques-Marie, an elderly nun who had known Matisse.

Hampl’s brief encounter with the Sister Jacques-Marie served as introduction to Freed’s movie, which examines the friendship between the nun and Matisse. The hourlong interview with Sister Jacques-Marie is a firsthand account of her unique and unlikely friendship with the artist, which started when she was a nursing student, and which flourished after she decided to join the convent. The friendship inspired them both to create the Chapelle du Rosaire in Sister Jacques-Marie’s Dominican convent.

“This is an unreal dream,” said Hampl, joining Freed onstage. “I am thrilled to be sharing the program. We each did our works without knowing about the other. I think we’re new best friends.”


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