Marie-Alain Couturier

Père Marie-Alain Couturier, known as Father Couturier (November 15, 1897-February 9, 1954) was a Dominican friar, designer of stained glass windows, famous for his modern inspiration of Sacred art.


Born Pierre Charles Marie Couturier at Montbrison (Loire), a change of name was effected on his entry in a Dominican convent in Amiens (1925). Father Couturier had been a soldier in the Great War, wounded in the foot (1917), and an art student at the Paris Académie de la Grande Chaumière (1919).

From 1926 onward he studied first at the Dominican High School in Saulchoir, Belgium, later, till 1935, in Rome where his studies were frequently interrupted by illness. In 1930 he became a priest. In 1935 his vocation was confirmed in the Saint Honoré Convent at Paris. He spent the years 1940-1945 overseas in the United States and Canada before becoming involved in a very practical way in some of the greatest artistic adventures of the 20th century: Henri Matisse and the Vence Chapel; Le Corbusier and the Notre Dame du Haut; the Notre-Dame de Toute Grace du Plateau d'Assy; and Audincourt.

He died of Myastenia gravis in 1954, mourned over by many of the great 20th century artists.

Sacred art

From 1936 till 1954 Father Couturier, together with Father Pie-Raymond Régamey, was the chief editor of the review L'Art Sacré that was to become very influential among art critics no longer satisfied with what was considered outdated 19th century church decoration. Father Couturier, who had a thorough practical initiation as an artisan glazier at the Ateliers des Arts Sacrés (1920-1927), was then considering to bring "living" art into the scope of modern church building. With Maurice Denis he had been responsible for the first abstract stained glass windows in the church of Le Raincy built by Auguste Perret in 1923.

The Austrian priest Otto Mauer , at the same time, was working along the same lines with the Austrian Avant-Garde, opening the Galerie nächts St Stephan for the very purpose. Alfred Kubin and Arnulf Rainer, among others became great friends of Mauer, just like some of the most outspoken freethinkers such as Fernand Leger and Henri Matisse became intimate friends with Father Couturier.

The general idea was that there was no religious denomination for art. "What is more real ? The torments of the figure of Christ or the beautiful expensive necklace you are wearing ?" a priest asked a parishioner who was criticizing the novel way in which Germaine Richier had symbolised the Christ in Agony in the new church at Assy. And: "But, don't you know I am a Jew ?" Jacques Lipchitz had asked Father Couturier when commissioned to deliver the sculpture of the Virgin Mary for Assy. "If it does not disturb you, it does not disturb me." had been the answer.

Such was the spirit that led to great art:

Stained Glass

In the art of stained glass a distinction has to be made between the artisan master-glazier and the designer, the cartoneur, who makes the cardboard maquettes of the artwork. (Special scissors are used on the cardboard that cut away strips corresponding to the soul of the leadstrip (H -came) in which the master-glazier assembles the colored glass fragments). Georges Rouault, Henri Matisse, Fernand Leger, Alfred Manessier, Jean Bazaine, Jean Le Moal are but a few of the master-painters designing for stained glass (cartoneurs) in company with Father Couturier.

Jean Hébert-Stevens, Marguerite Huré, Jean Barillet -again in company with Father Couturier, master-glazier as well as designer- are but some of the artisans whose name will forever be linked to the renewal inspired by Father Couturier.

In 1925 Jean Hébert-Stevens and Pauline Paugniez opened a workshop where glaziers and painters shared projects, inspired by the Ateliers d'Art Sacré initiated by Maurice Denis (1919). It was Marguerite Huré who signed for the execution of the glasswork designed by Maurice Denis and Pierre (Marie-Alain) Couturier for the church in Le Raincy in 1923. Jean Barrilet, around the same time was responsible for the creation of the workshop "The artisans of the altar".(Danièle Doumont, 2003 -ref below)

One seems to better understand the spiritual appeal of the artisans -of Father Couturiers message- when one concentrates on the symbolism of the cohesive function of the soul in multicolored illumination, a central feature in traditional artwork.


  • Henri Matisse, M.-A. Couturier, L.-B. Rayssiguier The Vence Chapel: The Archive of a Creation Milan, Menil Foundation -Skira Editore, 1999

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