Henri-Edmond Cross
Biography of Neo-Impressionist Pointillist Painter.

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The Iles d'Or (The Iles d'Hyeres) (1892)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris. One of Cross's
most famous landscape paintings -
utterly sublime Pointillism.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910)


Early Life and Training
Neo-Impressionism at the Salon des Independents
Sunday Afternoon on Island of La Grande Jatte
Towards the Golden Isles
Moves Away From Pointillism
Studio in the South

The Evening Air (c.1893)
Musee d'Orsay.

For an idea of the pigments
used by Henri-Edmond Cross, see:
Colour Palette Nineteenth Century.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest view painters, see:
Best Landcape Artists.

For the best works, see:
Greatest Modern Paintings.


One of the most underrated of modern artists, Henri-Edmond Cross is closely associated with the Neo-Impressionism movement, led by Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and Paul Signac (1863-1935), who introduced the painting technique of Pointillism (dots of pure colour), based on the colour mixing theories of Divisionism (Chromoluminarism). The initial Neo-Impressionist circle comprised Seurat, Signac, Cross, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Albert Dubois-Pillet (1846-1890), and Charles Angrand (1856-1926). These artists were then joined by others including Maximilien Luce (1858-1941), Leo Gausson (1860-1944), and Louis Hayet (1864-1940), as well as by the Belgian painters from Les Vingt, such as Theo Van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) and Henry Van de Velde (1863-1957). In his artistic development, Cross was influenced by his friendships and affinities with Luce, Signac, Van Rysselberghe, Charles Camoin (1879-1965), and Henri-Charles Manguin (1874-1949). His later move to the Mediterranean coast gave his work fresh impetus.

But although a friend of Paul Signac, Henri Edmond Cross does not enjoy the same renown, even if, as Francoise Baligand points out, "Between 1890 and 1900 the work they were doing was more or less of equal quality." The difference, she explains, was that Signac had children who championed his work, helping to spread his fame after his death: "that was not the case with Cross. He had no descendents and his paintings were scattered." Other factors that explain this situation are his early death and small body of work: Pointillism was a rigorous technique, and it could take weeks, even months, to complete a single painting. Finally, apart from the catalogue raisonne established by Isabelle Compin in 1964, and the retrospective mounted in Douai in 1998, Cross has been little studied. And yet, his work developed constantly in response to his artistic environment and friendships. (See also: Famous Painters.)



Early Life and Training

Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix - he took the name Cross in 1883 to avoid confusion with Eugene Delacroix or the academic painter Henri-Eugene Delacroix - was born in Douai in 1856. The decisive role in encouraging his talent was played not by his parents but by his father's first cousin, Doctor Auguste Soins, who spotted the young boy's gift and enrolled him in drawing classes in Lille as early as 1866. He was ten years old, and his teacher was the young painter Carolus-Duran (1838-1917). In 1878, Henri took lessons at the drawing and architecture academies in Lille, then attended the atelier of Francois Bonvin the following year. A studious visitor to the fine arts museum in Lille, he copied works there by Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Camille Corot and Eugene Delacroix.

Neo-Impressionism at the Salon des Independents

Leaving Lille for Paris in 1878, he settled in Montparnasse, at the height of the Impressionism movement, and worked in the atelier of Emile Dupont-Zipcy. In 1880 he showed his first work at the Salon des Artistes Francois. Not much has survived from this period, apart from a few portraits, some still lifes and one or two very dark-hued realist scenes. In 1884 Cross was involved in the creation of the Salon des Independants, where he would exhibit almost every year until his death. For the inaugural event, he presented Monaco (1884, Musee de la Chartreuse, Douai), the first known work of his in lighter colours, which was painted in 1884, when he travelled south to stay with his parents in the villa of Doctor Soins. At this first salon, Cross met Paul Signac, Charles Angrand, Albert Dubois-Pillet and Georges Seurat, who was exhibiting his Bathing at Asnieres (1883-4, National Gallery, London). These artists soon began to share their experiments, forming the small group that would give birth to Neo-Impressionism.

Sunday Afternoon on Island of La Grande Jatte

The last of the Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris was held in 1886 in Rue Laffitte, and witnessed the presentation of Seurat's manifesto-painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884, Art Institute of Chicago). For Cross, this was a revelation. Although he was already taking an active part in the theoretical discussions of Neo-Impressionism, he had yet to put into practice the principles of the optical mixture, the division of colours and contrasting tones. It would seem that 1891 was a decisive year. Cross was vice-chairman of the committee in charge of the Salon des Independents, where he showed his first divisionist painting, the Portrait of Irma Clare (the sitter was his companion, whom he met in Paris in 1888 and married in 1893), thus becoming an official member of the Neo-Impressionist group in the year when its leader, Seurat, deceased. The critic Andre Mellerio described Cross as "the most categorically and formally pointillist" painter of all. He had began to suffer from chronic rheumatism and moved down to the Mediterranean coast. There he rented the Maison Perdue (Lost House) in the hamlet of Cabasson, near Lavandou, before moving to Saint-Clair. His friend Theo Van Rysselberghe was a frequent resident, too, and bought his own house there in 1910. Signac, meanwhile, settled in Saint-Tropez.

Towards the Golden Isles

This was departure but not exile. Cross continued to travel to Paris and send up paintings for exhibitions, keeping in touch with his painter friends and the poets Emile Verhaeren and Stephane Mallarme. The neighbourhood of Saint-Clair was a new source of inspiration. Colour and light vibrated on the canvas in small round, regularly spaced touches, covering the entire surface. His favoured colours in a palette softened by the use of white, were pink, orange and yellow (Baigne-Cul Beach, The Beach of Vignasse, The Antibois Calanque). His mastery of divisionist technique and optical mixture was now consummate, as can be seen from his poetic masterpiece of 1892, The Golden Isles. "With this magical work", writes Francoise Baligand in the exhibition catalogue, "Cross reached one of the summits of his painting. The artist captured that moment when matter seems to melt in the sun. The canvas acquires a dimension close to abstraction, creating a fusion between the sand, the water and the sky, transfiguring nature into a veritable symphony."

Cross, Signac and Van Rysselberghe followed parallel paths. By 1893, their touch was beginning to break free of the dot. The works were still divisionist, but without the limiting rigour of the early days. Cross continued his exploration of light and its effects on colour. In late December 1893 he took part in the first exhibition put on by the Neo-Impressionist group in the Boutique Neo in Rue Laffitte, along with Angrand, Luce, Signac, and Van Rysselberghe.



Moves Away From Pointillism

The following year he exhibited The Evening Air, one of his great masterpieces (it inspired Henri Matisse when he painted Luxe, Calme et Volupte in 1905). The canvas shows him simplifying his forms, under the influence of Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock prints so beloved of the Nabis painters Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) and Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867-1944), whose work Cross knew and admired. Also in 1894, Cross had his first solo exhibition, again at the Boutique Neo, bringing together pictures painted since 1892. In 1895 he took part in L'Art Nouveau, an exhibition organised by the gallerist Samuel Bing, then worked with Jean Grave, the publisher of the anarchist journal Les Temps Nouveaux, for which he produced a series of lithographs. But while, like the other Neo-Impressionists, Cross was close to the anarchist movement, he was above all a Utopian, an idealist. Unlike Luce, he was not politically engaged, but simply interested in sharing new artistic ideas. Between 1895 and 1903 Cross's style continued to evolve. He was increasingly interested in chromatic harmony. Although continuing to use division and playing on complementary effects, his approach now seemed less radical. He had totally abandoned the pointillist dot. The clearly separate touches were now more irregular and, instead of discolouring his colours he intensified them by using them pure.

Saint-Clair Studio in the South of France

Although he suffered greatly from rheumatism and conjunctivitis between 1903 and 1910, this did not prevent him from producing finished work. In 1903 he made his first trip to Venice, where he produced a large quantity of watercolour painting. He did little sketching, but this new mode of expression already afforded greater freedom than oil painting. In 1904, Matisse - soon to become the leader of the new Fauvism style - sojourned in Saint-Tropez, frequenting Signac and taking an interest in Cross's experiments. The exchanges between the two artists were rich and their influence mutual. The Fauvist painters Charles Camoin, Henri Manguin, Albert Marquet, and Louis Valtat now also came down to the South of France. The revelling in colour that Cross saw in their paintings inspired him to be even more expressive in his own. In 1905 he had a solo show at Galerie Eugene Druet. His work was becoming more lyrical, and more decorative too. Cross had a model come to Saint-Clair and started to include a female figure in his sun-drenched landscapes, occasionally with a mythological pretext. Moving away from realistic themes, these paintings evince a new sensuous pleasure in painting. The catalogue to his last exhibition, organised in 1907 at the Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, was prefaced by Maurice Denis (1870-1943). In spite of his physical weakness, in 1908 Cross returned to Italy, this time to Tuscany and Umbria, where he delighted in the masterpieces in the museums of Florence, Pisa, Siena and Orvieto. He was hospitalised in Paris in 1909, then returned to Saint-Clair, where he passed away in May 1910. He rests in the cemetery at Lavandou, beneath the sun that was such an inspiration to him.

Neo-Impressionist paintings by Henri-Edmond Cross can be seen in some of the best art museums in Europe.

Further Resources

Post-Impressionist Painting (c.1880-1895)
Post-Impressionism (c.1880-1905)
Expressionist Movement (1880s onwards)
History of Expressionist Painting (1880-1930)

• For more details of Pointillism and Chromoluminarism, see: Homepage.

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