Art in the Church
Who were the artists commissioned?
Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) | Our Lady’s chapel 1959
- Cocteau came to London to paint these superb murals in Our Lady’s chapel, between November 3rd and 11th 1959.
- Cocteau was a multi-talented and well-known artist, already famous for his poetry, drawings, novels, films and plays. Such was his fame that a screen was erected to hold back the public and press while he painted the murals. He was an influential artist who, along with other famous contemporaries animated artistic life at that time.
- Cocteau received his honorary doctorate from Oxford University with the support of René Varin. Cocteau asked him if there was anything he could do in return. Varin suggested that he decorate a chapel at Notre Dame de France.
- The murals are dedicated to the Virgin Mary divided into 3 panels: the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Assumption. The murals are simplified drawings, lines with muted colours. Cocteau included a self-portrait within the Crucifixion scene on the left side of the altar.
- He arrived each morning at about 10am and always began by lighting a candle. He was heard talking to the Virgin Mary while working on the drawings.
‘O you, most beautiful of women, loveliest of God’s creatures, you
were the best loved. So I want you to be my best piece of work too…
I am drawing you with light strokes….You are the yet unfinished work
of Grace’. Jean Cocteau booklet: The walls of Jean Cocteau, written by Carole Wessweiller, photographed by Suzanne Held, Hergé (1998)
Dom Robert (Guy de Chaunac-Lanzac 1907-1997) | Notre Dame de France Tapestry 1954
- A beautiful Aubusson tapestry, above the altar, which is a work by this Benedictine monk of the En Calcat abbey.
- The theme of the tapestry is Paradise on earth with a reference to the Creation and to Wisdom. The New Eve, title given to Mary by the Church, is walking towards us as pure as a new bride.
- The quotation at the bottom of the tapestry (book of Proverbs) refers to the personification of Wisdom, present at God’s side when the world was created:
“Cum eo eram cuncta componens ludens coram eo omni tempore”
“I was by his side, like a master craftsman, ever at play in his presence”
- Dom Robert is a well-known tapestry artist of the 20th century. The key theme of his work is Nature as it emerged from the hands of the Creator of the world. There are frequent representations of vegetation and flowers in his work.
- He was a friend of Jean Cocteau, entered En Calcat Abbey in 1930. After 10 years spent at Buckfast Abbey in England, he went back to En Calcat. It was then that he started to produce works of art.
- Brochure on the tapestry (published on the centenary of Dom Robert’s birthday in 2007) Available from the reception of Notre Dame de France and from Amazon.co.uk (English and French edition)
Georges-Laurent Saupique (1889-1961) | Base relief carving: Our Lady of Mercy 1953
- The representation of Our Lady of Mercy above the entrance welcomes visitors as they walk in from the street and enter the church.
- Work of art of the famous French sculptor. He was head of the restoration work of Reims cathedral.
Boris Anrep (1863-1969) | Mosaic of the Nativity 1954
- Russian artist and mosaic specialist who was very active in England.
- He was very well known for his mosaics in Westminster Cathedral, the National Gallery and the Bank of England.
- In 2003 reordering work in the church led to the re-discovery of the mosaic by the artist in Our Lady’s side-chapel.
Charlotte Cochrane: Painting of Joan of Arc 2003
- Contemporary artist. She offered her picture to Notre Dame de France on May 30th 2003, on the Saint’s feast day.
- Since 1909, Joan of Arc is celebrated at Notre Dame de France on her feast’s day. She is depicted fully armoured, with a sword at her side, a young woman from her parish who takes her place as the heroine of Lorraine.
Statue of Our Lady of Victories c.1870
- Exact copy of the statue of ‘Notre Dame des Victoires’ in Paris.
- Destroyed during the bombardments of 1940. The head was parachuted back into France in 1942 in order to be restored.
- Sculptor Henri Vallette re-sculpted the statue based on the dimensions of the head.
- In 1945 the full statue was brought back to London.
Organ by August Gern 1868
- Organ was enlarged in 1938 by J.W. Walker & Sons Ltd. Dismantled during the 1940 blitz of London and was rebuilt in 1955 by J.W. Walker & Sons.
- Organ renovated in 1986, modernised and refurbished by B.C. Shepherd & Son in 2010.