The Artist Birthday Series

Henri-Edmond Cross

Today’s Artist Birthday: Henri-Edmond Cross

Henri-Edmond Cross, born Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix (20 May 1856 – 16 May 1910), was a French painter and printmaker. He is most acclaimed as a master of Neo-Impressionism, and he played an important role in shaping the second phase of that movement. He was very influential to Henri Matisse and many other artists, and his work was an instrumental influence in the development of Fauvism.

cross self portrait
Henri Edmond Cross, Self Portrait, 18

Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix was born in Douai, a commune in the Nord département in northern France, on 20 May 1856. He had no surviving siblings. His parents, with a family history of ironmongery, were French adventurer Alcide Delacroix and British Fanny Woollett.

In 1865 the family moved near Lille, a northern French city close to the Belgian border. His father’s cousin, Dr. Auguste Soins, recognized Henri’s artistic talent and was very supportive of his artistic inclinations, even financing the boy’s first drawing instructions under painter Carolus-Duran the following year. Henri was Duran’s protégé for a year. His studies continued  in Paris from 1875 to 1881.

Lille, France
Lille, France

His early works, portraits and still lifes, were in the dark colors of Realism. In order to distinguish himself from the famous Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, he changed his name in 1881, shortening and Anglicizing his birth name to “Henri Cross” – the French word croix means cross, and so the name. 1881 was also the year of his first exhibition at the Salon des Artistes Français. He painted many landscapes on an 1883 trip to the Alpes-Maritimes, accompanied by his family. Dr. Soins, who was also along on the trip, was the subject of a painting which Cross exhibited at Nice’s Exposition Universelle later in the year. During the Mediterranean trip, Cross met the painter Paul Signac, who became a close friend and artistic influence.

Portrait of Dr. Soins, by Henri Edmond Cross
Portrait of Dr. Soins, by Henri Edmond Cross, 1883

In 1884, Cross co-founded the Société des Artistes Indépendants, which consisted of artists displeased with the practices of the official Salon, and presented unjuried exhibitions without prizes. There he met and became friends with many artists involved in the Neo-Impressionist movement, including Georges Seurat, Albert Dubois-Pillet, and Charles Angrand.

Despite his association with the Neo-Impressionists, Cross did not adopt their style for many years. His work continued to manifest influences such as  Édouard Manet and the Impressionists. The change from his early, somber, Realist work was gradual. His color palette became lighter and he worked en plein air, he painted in the brighter colors of Impressionism.

"Landscape," by Henri Edmond Cross, 1896-99
“Landscape,” by Henri Edmond Cross, 1896-99

In the latter part of the 1880s, he painted pure landscapes which showed the influence of Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. In about 1886, attempting again to differentiate himself from another French artist – this time, Henri Cros – he again changed his name, finally adopting “Henri-Edmond Cross”.
In 1891, Cross began painting in the Neo-Impressionist style, and exhibited his first large piece using this technique in one of the famous Paris Indépendants show. That painting was a divisionist portrait of Madame Hector France, née Irma Clare, whom Cross had met in 1888 and would marry in 1893. Robert Rosenblum wrote that “the picture is softly charged with a granular, atmospheric glow”.

"Madame Hector France," by Henri Edmond Cross, 1891
“Madame Hector France,” by Henri Edmond Cross, 1891

Cross had wintered in the south of France from 1883 onward, until, suffering from rheumatism, he finally moved there full-time in 1891. His works were still exhibited in Paris. His first residence in southern France was in Cabasson, near Le Lavandou, then he settled a short distance away, in the small hamlet of Saint-Clair, where he spent the remainder of his life, leaving only for Italian trips in 1903 and 1908, and for his annual Indépendants exhibits in Paris. In 1892, Cross’s friend Paul Signac moved to nearby Saint-Tropez. Cross and Signac frequently hosted gatherings in Cross’s garden, attended by such luminaries as Matisse, André Derain, and Albert Marquet.

"Etude Pour Scène De Corrida," by Henri Edmond Cross
“Etude Pour Scène De Corrida,” by Henri Edmond Cross

The process of creating Divisionist paintings with numerous small dots of color was tedious and time-consuming. When Cross wanted to depict quick impressions, he created watercolor or colored pencil images in his sketchbooks. He wrote of a rustic French outing: “Oh! What I saw in a split second while riding my bike tonight! I just had to jot down these fleeting things … a rapid notation in watercolor and pencil: an informal daubing of contrasting colors, tones, and hues, all packed with information to make a lovely watercolor the next day in the quiet leisure of the studio.”

"La Plage de Saint-Clair," by Henri-Edmond Cross, 1896
“La Plage de Saint-Clair,” by Henri-Edmond Cross, 1896

Cross’s paintings of the early- to mid-1890s are characteristically Pointillist, with closely and regularly positioned tiny dots of color. Beginning around 1895, he gradually shifted his technique, instead using broad, blocky brushstrokes and leaving small areas of exposed bare canvas between the strokes. The resulting surfaces of the paintings resembled mosaics, and the works may be seen as precursors to Fauvism and Cubism. Whereas in Pointillism, minute spots of paint were intended to blend colors harmoniously, the “second generation Neo-Impressionism” strategy was to keep the colors separate, resulting in “vibrant shimmering visual effects through contrast”. He stated that the Neo-Impressionists were “far more interested in creating harmonies of pure color, than in harmonizing the colors of a particular landscape or natural scene.” Henri Matisse and other artists were very influenced by the late-career Cross, and such works were instrumental in forming the principles of Fauvism.

"Provence Landscape," Henri-Edmond Cross, 1898
“Provence Landscape,” Henri-Edmond Cross, 1898

Galerie Druet in Paris mounted his first solo exhibition, in 1905, featuring thirty paintings and thirty watercolors. The show was very successful, receiving critical acclaim, and most of the works were sold. Belgian Symbolist poet Emile Verhaeren, an avid supporter of Neo-Impressionism in his country, provided the preface for the exhibition catalog, writing: “These landscapes … are not merely pages of sheer beauty, but motifs embodying a lyrical sense of emotion. Their rich harmonies are satisfying to the painter’s eye, and their sumptuous, luxuriant vision is a poet’s delight. Yet this abundance never tips into excess. Everything is light and charming …”

Watercolor landscape, by Henri-Edmond Cross, 1904
Watercolor landscape, by Henri-Edmond Cross, 1904

Cross began to experience troubles with his eyes in the early 1880s, and these grew more severe in the 1900s. He also increasingly suffered from arthritis. At least in part due to these health issues which plagued him for years, his body of work is relatively small. However, in his last years he was productive and very creative, and his work was featured in significant solo exhibitions; he received great acclaim from critics and enjoyed commercial success.

"The Wood," by Henri-Edmond Cross, 1906
“The Wood,” by Henri-Edmond Cross, 1906-07

In 1909, Cross was treated in a Paris hospital for cancer. In January 1910 he returned to Saint-Clair, where he died of the cancer just four days short of his 54th birthday, on 16 May 1910. He was buried in the local cemetery in Le Lavandou, France, a town where today, due to every plot being sold in that cemetery, it has been made illegal to die .

Portrait of Henri-Edmond Cross, by his friend Theo van Rysselberghe, 1906
Portrait of Henri-Edmond Cross, by his friend Theo van Rysselberghe, 1906

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