Henri Edmond Cross: A Rose By Any Other Name

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Henri-Edmond Cross (born Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix) was born on the 20th of May 1856 to a French father and English mother. Cross grew up in a small village near Lille in the North of France, just shy of the Belgian border. As with many painters, he showed an early inclination toward the creative arts and his uncle Dr. Auguste Soins decided his talents were worth investing in. It was Cross’ uncle who paid for his mentorship under the painter Carolus-Duran in 1866, and this was to set Cross on his way to becoming one of the most influential artists the world has ever known. He spent a year with Duran before a move to Paris led him to the temporary tutelage of François Bonvin before returning to Lille. He studied at both the École des Beaux-Arts and the Écoles Académiques de Dessin et d’Architecture and moved to Paris once more in 1881 to continue his art education under Émile Dupont-Zipcy.

Cross’ early career began with realism and a palette of darker, grittier colours that he would turn on its head fairly shortly after. It was also around this time that he changed his name from Delacroix to Cross in order to distance himself and his art from the romanticist Eugene Delacroix. On a family trip to the Alpes-Maritimes, Cross met Paul Signac, and the pair formed a bond of true friendship that would change the way they thought about painting.

Cross was a co-founder of the  Société des Artistes Indépendants which began its work in 1884. It was really just a reaction to the practices of the official Salon and provided a  platform for like-minded artists to gather. It was here that Cross met for the first time the Neo-Impressionists Charles Angrand, Georges Seurat, and Albert Dubois-Pillet. His transition from Realism to Impressionism was a slow one, and his use of colour gradually got lighter, but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Cross started to exhibit the influences of Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro in his landscapes.

1891 was the year in which Cross started to paint in his Neo-impressionist style and the first piece to be exhibited was a portrait of Madame Hector France, a woman he met in 1888 and would go on to marry. Cross was diagnosed with rheumatism, and although his works were exhibited in Paris, he made a permanent move to the south of France in a town called Cabasson. His old friend Signac had also moved into the nearby seaside town of Saint Tropez, and together they would often throw parties in Cross’ garden, the guests? A veritable who’s who of the art world including Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet. But it wasn’t only a love of painting that banded this boys club together, they were a subversive bunch and were anarchists at heart that believed in the possibility of a utopian society with no laws thrust upon it. Cross would often paint utopian scenes as the result of anarchism and actually published an anonymous lithograph in Jean Graves’  Les Temps Nouveau called The Wanderer (L’Errant) to this point.

In the late 1809’s Cross’ pointillism technique evolved from broader brushstrokes to minuscule ones which served as the basis for Cubism and Fauvism and created a wondrous world where colours could be blended seamlessly and lived in complete harmony with one another. It was this period in Cross’ career that was to be such an undeniable inspiration to the great Henri Matisse as well as a raft of other famous painters. When cross grew weary of pointillism’s painstaking necessity for fine strokes he would do quickfire watercolours and sketches, he would exhibit 30 of these in at the Galerie Druet in 1905, his first solo exhibition along with another 30 of his usual pointillism pieces. His health always seemed to be a stumbling block to a greater body of work and his arthritis got progressively worse in his later years.  This did nothing to blunt his creativity, however, and his later work is roundly acknowledged as being among his finest. But in January of 1910, Cross lost his short battle with cancer and was buried in a tomb in the Le Lavandou cemetery. He was 53 years old.