The Maurice Denis décor in the Vesinet church partly destroyed by a fire


1. Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Decor of the chapel of the Sacre-Cœur
(before the fire of july 2009)
Oil on backed
Le Vésinet, church
Photo : Fabienne Stahl

18/8/09 – Heritage – Le Vesinet, church of Sainte-Marguerite – Between 1901 and 1903, Maurice Denis decorated the ambulatory and the two chapels in the choir of the church of Sainte-Marguerite in Le Vesinet [1]. He also produced there two stained-glass windows, recently restored by the glass painter Emmanuel Chauche under the supervision of the Monuments Historiques.

The night of 25 to 26 July 2009, part of the building was ravaged by flames which inflicted serious damage to the chapel of the Sacre-Cœur (ill. 1). A stained-glass window, of the three there, was totally destroyed (ill. 2) and the décor, painted on a backed (maroufle) canvas, is extremely deteriorated (ill. 3).


2. Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Decor of the chapel of the Sacre-Cœur, detail of the fabric strip
totally destroyed during the fire of july 2009)
Le Vésinet, church Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Fabienne Stahl

3. Chapel of the Sacre-Cœur after the fire of july 2009.
Photo taken the 10 august 2009
Le Vésinet, church Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Didier Rykner


Although it is still too early to evaluate the extent of the damage to the paintings, the fabric strip located over the destroyed window was totally burned to ash. The two strips hanging from the vaulted ceiling and the canvases which did not peel off are, at best, completely blackened by the soot, at worst underwent such high temperatures that the materials are warped and perhaps irreparably damaged. However, even the parts which have come off (ill. 4) show traces of the original décor although it is impossible to say yet what can or cannot be saved (ill. 5). A painting, also by Maurice Denis, painted on the wall at the entrance to the chapel, was not harmed by the fire [2] (ill. 6).

4. Chapel of the Sacre-Cœur after
the fire of july 2009.
Photo taken the 10 august 2009
Le Vésinet, church
Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Didier Rykner

5. Comparison between a detail of
the decor
of the chapel of the Sacre-Cœur,
before and after the
fire of july 2009.
Photos : on the left Fabienne Stahl, on
the right Didier Rykner


6. Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
The Crucifixion
Wall Painting
Chapel of the Sacre-Cœur
Le Vésinet, church Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Didier Rykner

Quite fortunately, the rest of Maurice Denis’ work, particularly the chapel of the Virgin (ill. 7 and 8) which is a pendant to that of the Sacre-Coeur, did not undergo any injuries, nor did the decors or stained-glass windows of the ambulatory. Parts of the decorative wall paintings in this section of the church, also by Maurice Denis, had been layered over a long time ago.

Attempts at cleaning were recently carried out and city hall, active in saving the town’s heritage, wanted to continue the restoration [3]. We hope that despite the fire the project will continue to go ahead.

The rest of the church, which is listed in the Inventaire supplementaire des Monuments Historiques, and which furthermore had undergone vandalism by the clergy in the 1960’s resulting in the disappearance of a large part of the furniture (pulpit, banc d’œuvre, main altar), is also very interesting as the nave has a remarkable ensemble of stained-glass windows by Lobin de Tours (ill. 9). These were not affected by the flames.

The incident started outside the chapel of the Sacre-Cœur (ill. 10), which houses some of the material used in setting up the market which for the last five years has taken place on the church square. The investigation will determine the exact source of the fire. Whether it was an accident (perhaps just an abandoned cigarette butt) or of criminal origin, it is surprising – not to mention unaesthetic – that potentially fire-prone objects be stored at close proximity to a historical monument. We can only hope that this disaster will serve as a lesson in the future.

7. Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Decor of the chapel of the Virgin
Oil on backed canvas
Le Vésinet, church Sainte-Marguerite
Photo:Didier Rykner

8. Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
Decor and stained-glass windows of the chapel of the Virgin
Le Vésinet, church Sainte-Marguerite
Photo:Didier Rykner


9. Lobin de Tours
Three stained-glass windows of the nave of the church Sainte-Marguerite
Photo :Didier Rykner

10. Outside of the chapel of the Sacre-Cœur
after the fire of july 2009
Le Vésinet, church Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Didier Rykner (10 august 2009)

Version française


Didier Rykner, mardi 18 août 2009


Notes

[1] The church dates back to 1865, the ambulatory and the two chapels decorated by Maurice Denis were built in 1895.

[2] The theme of the wall paintings, The Glorification of the Cross Taken to Heaven by Angels, had already been illustrated by Maurice Denis a little earlier in the chapel of the Sainte-Croix in Le Vesinet. This décor was removed by the artist himself when the building was destroyed and it is held at the Musee d’Orsay today. It will soon be assembled again and be placed on permanent display for the public.

[3] Our warm thanks to Claire Denis and Fabienne Stahl, a specialist on Maurice Denis who works particularly on his religious decors, for their help in providing us with some of the information here.



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