In the Chapel by Alice Bailly

What’s the meaning of In the Chapel by Alice Bailly?

  • Wimples with wings
  • Nuns, Angels, Mary, Jesus… and a golden brushstroke
  • Christianity’s mystery of faith

Click here for the podcast version of this post.

Alice Bailly’s painting In the Chapel echoes with spiritual symmetry. There’s a sense of divine order to Bailly’s composition. Balance and repetition of color, shape, and symbols create harmony. This makes the scene feel like a sacred space. Of course, we have other clues to show us it’s a church. But a resonant feeling of divinity pulses through this canvas. That’s the special sauce Bailly brings to the piece. Even with abstracted subjects and her Cubist/Futurist take, she gets us to church on time.

Without the visceral sense of sanctuary, key elements point to this as a space for worship. We don’t need the title to know it’s In the Chapel. Alice Bailly was quite experimental and even invented her own brand of Cubism. Yet, her message rings clear and true thanks to telling details in her work.

For instance, there’s a group of nuns in white wimples at center. These headpieces are also called cornettes because of the way they curl up at the corners like horns. The french word for horn being cornes. Which is where we got the word cornette. In this painting these blend into abstracted sister wimples like rising wings. They seem like mortals transitioning into angels.

The actual angel just above reinforces this point of view. This benevolent being points toward the nuns – beckoning to them. Angels are free from gender as well as judgement. So, their pointing isn’t like the pointing of a person. Instead of calling someone out, an angel beckons with only love and acceptance. You are welcome, the angel seems to say, come join me.

In the Chapel by Alice Bailly

There are other figures above along with this angel. But they’re much more abstract. In the middle we see Mary, mother of Jesus. She wears a soft blue garment and holds a baby toward the heavens. The chapel arches blur around Mary in wing-like shapes. This makes her like another kind of angel. The wings point to her eventual sainthood. Still, one has to dig in and look to see Mary here. Bailly’s unique version of Cubism shields her from obvious recognition. It’s also a lovely way to blend the gothic chapel arches with angelic symbolism.

Mary’s ambiguous figure imbues the scene with sacred mystery. We have to work a bit to see the Virgin Mary in this Cubist portrayal. Still, it’s clear she’s Mary. This figure’s far higher than others in the painting. Her baby, Jesus, floats above as the only exception to this. That makes sense, given that he’s part of the Holy Trinity. This isn’t an ordinary infant. He’s God’s baby. That’s why the child takes such a central and elevated position in the piece.

After all, Bailly sets this scene In the Chapel. This place usually has a statue of Jesus; prominent, high up, and central. It all lines up well with the typical Christian idea of what one might find at church. We find nuns, angels, Mary, and Jesus. Everything a viewer would expect for a Christian sanctuary is here. It may take a deeper look. But that’s also the beauty part.

In fact, the best bit of this Alice Bailly painting makes the least sense. It’s a glorious conundrum. To our right, above those ascending, winged cornettes, we find a golden blur. This gilded sweep touches the cornettes as well as the baby at center. These winged wimples represent angels, conduits for God. Jesus served as a channel for God as well.

So, this lovely, yet enigmatic brushstroke signifies the Holy Spirit In the Chapel. It’s a brilliant marriage of Cubism with symbolism. We can’t make out a figure in that part of the painting. That parallels the mystery of God and faith. Can we know for certain that Bailly intended this gold to symbolize God? Depends on how much the viewer sees this painting through a Christian perspective.

In the Chapel – FAQs

Who is Alice Bailly?

It’s disappointing to check art history canonical texts for Alice Bailly. She’s not even a footnote. Yet Bailly was an impactful painter with ferocious ingenuity. A Swiss painter, her early work fits into the Futurist, Cubist, Dadaist, and Fauvism categories.

In fact, Bailly fits into so many genres because her work was complex and varied. She experimented and evolved with the times. We see this in her embrace of Futurism before World War I and Dadaism after. But Bailly’s most iconic contribution to the art world was her wool painting series. She used colored yarn to simulate brush strokes in 3D on canvas. This opened many eyes to the potential for mixed mediums in fine art.

Where can I see Alice Bailly’s In the Chapel painting in person?

Swiss Painter Alice Bailly’s In the Chapel lives at the Kunst Museum Winterthur in Switzerland. Although it’s only about three by three feet, the canvas mesmerizes in person. A puzzle-like feeling permeates the experience standing before it.

There’s a lovely sense of movement to this masterpiece and it draws viewer eyes across the canvas. So, there’s a rhythm to Bailly’s composition. If you are ever lucky enough to visit the Kunst Museum Winterthur, there are several other Bailly works to see as well. I recommend checking them out because you will see how much her work changed over the years.


Check out these other essays on Women Painters

See In the Chapel at the Kunst Museum Winterthur website

Perry, Gillian (1995). Women Artists and the Parisian Avant-garde: Modernism and Feminine Art, 1900 to the Late 1920s. Manchester University Press

Butler, J. (1980). “Alice Bailly, Cubo-Futurist Pioneer (1872–1938)”. Oxford Art Journal3 (1): 52–57

Alice Bailly bio from the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Günter., Berghaus. International Yearbook of Futurism Studies. Vol. 5, 2015. Special Issue : Women Artists and Futurism