The Chapel of Notre-Dame de la Paix was entirely decorated by the Japanese artist Léonard Foujita (1886-1968) and gifted to the town of Rheims by René Lalou, president and director general of G.H. Mumm.
Champagne was always a breeding ground for unusual personalities. The heads of the Champagne Houses have left their mark on the world through the quality of their wines and their exceptional talent for selling them. These were cultivated men with a keen awareness of the importance of Art and Literature and also Sport. Président of the House of Mumm, René Lalou, was introduced to the Japanese painter Foujita by the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne, Georges Prade). And in 1964, he invited Foujita to apply his talent to a Rheims monument that now attracts visitors from all around the world: the Chapel of Notre-Dame de la Paix or the "Foujita Chapel".
Foujita, who had adopted Montparnasse as his second home, was a fervent admirer of cathedrals and religious painting. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. This artistic passion proved the prelude to new spiritual and religious awareness when in 1959 the artist had a mystic vision while lighting a candle in the Saint Rémi de Reims basilica in the company of the Taittinger family.
The buddhist Foujita then resolved to convert to Christianity and, after detailed religious instruction, he was baptised in Rheims cathedral with the Catholic first name Léonard which was also the first name of the painter da Vinci who he admired above all others. His godfather was René Lalou, the then president of the House of Mumm, and his godmother the young Madame Françoise Taittinger, who led her godson (45 years her senior) by the hand to the baptismal font. In memory and recognition of his conversion, Léonard Foujita accepted René Lalou’s commission to oversee the design and building of a new chapel in Rheims, located within the grounds of the House of Mumm.
Foujita drew up the plans for a chapel in the Romanesque style, which featured ironwork and windows of his own design. Once the chapel was built, the master (now aged 80) risked life and limb to climb the scaffolding and, fuelled by his faith, decorated the sanctuary with biblically inspired frescos.
He had to work fast, using an old technique which allowed no opportunity for corrections. Pigments were applied to a moist render that immediately absorbed drawings and colours alike. Retouching was impossible. The work was completed in a record time of two months, with a confident draughtsmanship that is testament to the unerring touch of a Master.
A treasure of Rheims’ heritage
The chapel was immediately listed as a historic monument and has been open to the public since 1966, together with its charming garden. It remains an important feature of Rheims’ cultural and touristic heritage, a credit to the generosity of the House of Mumm.
The city takes great pride in this chapel — a place that symbolises souls at peace, expressed through art and a spirit of mystical offering. A place of meditation for believers and non-believers alike, filling their eyes with beauty and their hearts with peace.
A treasure of Rheims’ heritage
Each fresco is composed with the disciplined harmony of the great painters, together creating an impression of calm and serenity that favours reflection. A softness radiates from Notre Dame de la Paix, the chapel’s namesake featured in the choir. In the transept, Notre Dame des Vendanges (harvests) is seated on a barrel, offering a bunch of Champagne grapes to God the Child, with Rheims cathedral and the St Remi basilica visible in the distance.
The western facade features the crucifixion. To the side, the Nativity story is juxtaposed with the reality of the seven deadly sins and Hiroshima. Also pictured are biblical scenes which, in the tradition of the Middle Ages, show the generous patron, president of Mumm René Lalou, and the artist. The colours are soft and warm, restrained and natural. The ambient light is brightened by the sunlight that shines through the stained glass windows.
Foujita’s pure, precise draughtsmanship brings his drawings to life, heightening willowy figures and expressive European faces with exotic, eastern-looking eyes. The total effect is harmonious and classical with a mass of detail inspired by refined Japanese tradition — the chrysanthemum, symbol of the Empire of the Rising Sun, and the cat, Foujita’s mascot. Flowers, butterflies and minutely detailed insects are evocations of oriental art. Foujita himself is laid to rest here in his sarcophagus — all of his soul and the essence of his talent committed to his chapel for all eternity.
Works of patronage, whether social or cultural, do not only honour the Grandes Marques with which they are associated. They pay tribute to the entire Champagne industry. The generosity of Champagne Houses serves as a continual reinforcement of Champagne’s good reputation in the world at large.