Sister Jacques-Marie, 84, a Dominican nun whose friendship with artist Henri Matisse led him to create the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France, died of respiratory disease and other ailments Sept. 26 at Les Embruns, a rehabilitation center in Bidart, France.
Sister Jacques-Marie's friendship with Matisse began in 1942, when she was a 21-year-old nursing student in Nice, France, named Monique Bourgeois; he was in his early seventies and recovering from surgery for intestinal cancer. She answered his ad for a "young and pretty night nurse" and got the job.
They became good friends, and for years rumors persisted that he had a crush on her. She never entirely denied it but said she thought of him as a grandfather.
When his health improved, Matisse asked her to pose for his paintings. She modeled for four, including "Monique in Gray Robe," as well as a number of drawings.
About a year after she met Matisse, she entered the Dominican order as a novice and took her religious vows in 1946, settling in the convent at Vence.
She was working as a nursing nun, sitting at the bedside of an ailing sister, when she made a drawing of the Assumption of Mary, the mother of Jesus, into heaven.
Matisse, who had a villa nearby, saw the drawing and suggested that it be made into a stained-glass window. That led to discussions about building a chapel for the order.
At the time, the Dominican sisters of Vence met for prayer in a converted garage.
Matisse was involved in every aspect of the project, starting with a rough sketch he made of the building. He created the stained-glass windows, murals, vestments and furnishings and, according to some reports, helped finance it. When the chapel was finished in 1951, he considered it his masterwork and credited Sister Jacques-Marie with making it possible.
The small, modern gem attracted international attention, and wide interest arose in the unusual friendship behind the new building.
Sister Jacques-Marie described her friendship with Matisse as one of affection, gratitude and caring.
A half-century after the chapel was complete, she still kept his photograph on her desk.