angel and fish
For quite a while, I thought Matisse was Russian, because I first discovered his paintings in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. I also assumed Marc Chagall was French (easy mistake...), but eventually I realised I'd got them the wrong way round. Yet I should have worked it out from all the clues in Chagall's paintings.
At the end of last week I finally got round to visiting the church in Tudeley, after years of being told I should (and this was before the stained glass interest grew). After all, where else could you see an entire set of windows by Chagall (the answer is: nowhere), and wasn't Chagall such an exceptional artist that you'd want to see anything by him? Well, actually, I still prefer Matisse who also made a set of stained glass windows late in life for a small, modest, out-of-the-way place, this time for a small chapel near Nice, and I've never really appreciated or got Chagall.
But because it was on our way to Rye, we stopped off at the unassuming church on the edge of fields, and I duly had my my misconceptions blown apart once again. I walked round, not sure whether I liked the windows or not, while Simon picked up the sheet of background information and read. I then had to go round all over again because I'd missed so much.
I should have remembered that Chagall's work is full of incident: birds flying, donkeys flying, angels flying, people floating, fish floating, ladders, flowers, airy whirls and watery swirls in a bright and always colourful universe. His stained glass is just the same, yet I didn't see it all: the little smiles, faces, butterflies with folded wings, donkey heads, and fish, all cleverly hidden like tiny visual jokes and notes of lightheartedness in what are, essentially, heartbreakingly sad windows.
There is a watery theme because they commemorate a young woman's death by drowning, and there is a great deal of blue. But there is also a floaty, aerial feel to many of the windows, a tension between the elements of water and air. And there is fire in the form of sunlight - two windows on the south side are wonderful explosions of yellow. It's rare to find so much gold, gamboge, saffron, and lemon glass in a single window, let alone a pair. So, after all the sadness comes the sunshine, a complete immersion in breathtakingly intense golden light.
And now I have learned to always read the guide, and that I like Chagall.*
feet of the angel above and signature
*interesting that Chagall and Matisse both came to stained glass late in life and that Matisse also uses blue and yellow to great effect in Vence (as did Monet in his interior decor at Giverny). Maybe they are the truly primary colours, but it takes us a lifetime to realise.
(Must also say that many of the windows are at eye level so you can see every last brush-stroke, scratch, stain and mark.)