Henri Edmond Cross was born in the marches of Flanders. His mother, Fanny Woollett, was English. At the age of 10 he started drawing lessons in Lille, encouraged by a family cousin, Dr Soins. He was taught by Carolus Duran who also came from Douai, Alphonse Colas, and later, after moving to Paris in 1876, François Bonvin. From 1890 he chose to spend most of the year in the Var region. Signac and Van Rysselberghe were regular visitors to St-Clair. During the Fin-de-siècle years, Cross was a friend of the Anarchists, sharing their dream of harmony between man and nature, and contributed to Jean Graves's magazine Les Temps Nouveaux. In the early 1900s he travelled to Italy and was captivated by the works of Tintoretto in Venice. However, Cross was soon overcome by poor health, suffering bouts of rheumatism and eye problems. His stoicism during these difficult times astonished his friends, who also included Roussel, Vuillard, Bonnard, Valtat and Lucie Cousturier. The latter wrote that 'these terrible bouts of arthritis which deformed and paralysed his joints always resulted in younger and younger paintings, like acts of revenge'. Towards the end of his life, Cross visited Tuscany and Rome before returning to Le Lavandou. He died from cancer on 16 May 1910, aged 54.
At the age of 25, Cross exhibited for the first time at the 1881 Salon, from then on called the Salon des Artistes Français. He showed his work under his real name, H. E. Delacroix, which he quickly translated into English on the advice of Bonvin. He then exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants from 1884, the year it was founded, having been one of its promoters. His paintings and watercolours were exhibited in 1894 at the gallery rented by the Neo-Impressionists at 20 Rue Lafitte (alongside the works of the elegiac Neo-Impressionist painter Hippolyte Petitjean), in 1896 at the Salon de l'Art Nouveau, and in 1899 at the Galerie Durand-Ruel as part of the exhibition Homage to Odilon Redon (Hommage à Odilon Redon). The exhibitions at the Galerie Druet in 1905 (presented by Émile Verhaeren), then at the Galerie Bernheim two years later (with a catalogue prefaced by Maurice Denis), were considered a triumph of colour. Cross's paintings exhibited in Berlin in 1909 were greeted as visionary by the first Expressionists.
Cross's early works depict mostly portraits of family and friends, the Jardin de l'Observatoire and the Jardin du Luxembourg. His Realist interpretation and sombre style stemmed from the teaching of Carolus Duran and Bonvin. This was also the period when he discovered the south of France during family holidays in the Alpes-Maritimes. His palette quickly lightened and his style became freer. Garden Corner in Monaco, which he exhibited in 1884 at the Salon des Indépendants, is a scene painted in the open air in bright colours. 1891, however, saw a transformation in his work when Cross, a former follower of the Impressionists, exhibited the Divisionist portrait of his wife (now at the Musée d'Orsay).
It was around the time of Seurat's death that Cross turned to Neo-Impressionism, breaking with the aesthetic principles he had followed for 10 years, adopting instead those of the group who exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants. For his friends Angrand, Signac and Luce, he brought rare sensitivity and re-introduced Romanticism to painting in these last years of the 19th century. It was in the Var, while working on sunrises and sunsets, that Cross created some of his most important works, such as Farm in the Morning and Farm in the Evening (1893), and Mother Playing with her Child (1897). Cross achieved an almost Romantic liberation of the landscape in his painting Wave. Together with Signac and Van Rysselberghe, he revealed the beauty of Provence, a beauty that, until then, had been sought by the Impressionists mostly in the Île-de-France or Normandy. These works already heralded the arrival of Fauvism, as Matisse would demonstrate in Luxe, Calme et Volupté, which was inspired by Cross's subjective Neo-Impressionism when Matisse went to work with him in St-Tropez in 1904. Cross, whose aim was to 'glorify an interior vision' through the arrangement of feelings, did acquire his own followers. His work was distinct from Signac's in its brushwork, which was less systematic, more dense and closer to Seurat's, but Cross's work also differed from Seurat's in his use of intense colour, sometimes clashing contrasts, often based on purple.
The primacy of light, the logical culmination of Seurat's and Signac's work, would accelerate the development of modern painting. Cross's open secret, 'I come back to the idea of chromatic harmonies, created from nothing (so to speak) and outside nature, as a starting point', could be seen as a step towards later Abstract art, just like the famous maxim of Maurice Denis on 'colours arranged in a certain order'. Through the intervention of Cross, the Neo-Impressionists, referred to as the dissidents of Impressionism, contributed decisively to an historic upheaval which was to challenge fundamentally the traditional notions of painting.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Douai: Garden Corner in Monaco (1884)
Geneva: Bather (1906)
Grenoble (Mus. de Grenoble): Cape Layet (1904)
New York (Metropolitan Mus. of Art): Figures in a Park (watercolour)
Paris (MNAM-CCI): The Îles d'Or (1891-1892)
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): Portrait of Madame Cross
St-Tropez (Mus. de l'Annonciade): Beach at St-Clair (1908)
Toledo (MA): Village Dance (1895-1896)