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Friday, December 6, 2013

Henri-Edmond Cross

San Giorgio Maggiore Venice, 1904, Henri-Edmond Cross.
Having visited Venice this summer, I've come to love Venetian scenes.
Henri-Edmond Cross
Self-portrait, 1880
Those who write about art have a tendency to slight the period near the end of the 19th century which we've come to call Post-impressionism. I guess, truth be told, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. Part of the reason is that this period saw a fragmentation of painting styles as Impressionist started moving on, and in so doing, headed off in several different directions. We have Fauvism, Expressionism, Pointillism, Neo-impressionism, Primitivism, and two or three more lesser "isms" all of which we tend to cover individually rather than as a group. The fact that each of these styles were quite different further adds to this fragmentation of what may, in fact, be a poor designation in the first place. The term was coined as late as 1910 by the English art critic, Roger Fry, designating the years 1886-1892 (a rather narrow time slot). It was a catchall intended more as chronological designation than one of style.
Rio San Trovaso, 1904, Henri-Edmond Cross. Pointillism is an ideal
style for capturing the watery, shimmering essence of Venice.
One of the most important "isms," of this era, and the one most closely related to impressionism, was that of Pointillism. Here the names Seurat and Signac come to mind, but equally important as to this style was that of Henri-Edmond Cross. Cross was born Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix in northern France in 1856. When he moved to Paris around 1881 to begin studying and working as an artist, he changed his name to Henri Cross to avoid confusion with Eugene Delacroix (no relation). He began as a Realist painter but in meeting Paul Signac while touring the Mediterranean he became fascinated with Signac's dots, though in many of Cross' paintings the dots tended to be more like tiny squares.

Maximillien Luce, 1898, Henri Edmond Cross
Madame Hector France, 1893, Henri-Edmond Cross
Cross's painting style didn't suddenly change with his exposure to Impressionism, Pointillism, or Paul Signac. It evolved. Strangely, it's first noticeable appearance came not in a landscape, but in a portrait of his future wife, Madame Hector France (right), whom he met in 1888, painted in 1891, and married in 1893. When we think of Pointillism, we don't usually think of portraits, but Cross's painting of his future wife, and especially that of his friend and fellow artist Maximillien Luce (above), far surpasses the portraiture of either Seurat or Signac. Cross' traditional Academic training is plainly evident. Yet there is a great deal of both Seurat and Signac in Cross' later work after 1900, though he tended towards the nude figures favored by his Impressionist friends as seen in his In the Shade (below) from 1902. By this time he had once more found the need to change his name to differentiate himself from another French artist, Henri Cros. That's when he became Henri-Edmond Cross. Despite severe arthritis, Cross continued to be productive until shortly before his death from cancer in 1909. He was 53 and, as his portrait would suggest, a heavy smoker.

In the Shade, 1902, Henri-Edmond Cross. His penchant for painting en Plein air is clearly evident. Given the time consuming nature of Pointillism, he must have loved the outdoors.


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