Henri-Edmond Cross (French, Douai 1856 - 1910 Saint-Clair)
The Return of the Fisherman (Le Pêcheur Provençal), 1896
Signed and dated lower right: henri Edmond Cross / 96
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 36 in. (64.8 x 91.5 cm)
Gift of Nate B. Spingold, 1953
Listen to a discussion of this work by Kate Jones-Smith, Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Cross's distinctive approach to Neo-Impressionism is eloquently represented in the vibrant, unmixed colors, decorative surface patterning, and clear divisionist execution of The Return of the Fisherman. Simplified and abstracted forms highlight the rugged topography and intricate undulations of the Provençal coastline; shimmering visual effects, the result of saturated colors and pronounced tonal contrasts, suggest the intensity of the waning sunlight.
Cross moved to a small village (Cabasson, and later, Saint-Clair) on the French Mediterranean coast in October 1891. Shortly thereafter, he described the compelling charms of the Provençal landscape to his friend, the Neo-Impressionist painter and theoretician Paul Signac, who eventually also settled in the area. 1
"A beach of such sand as is unknown on the shores of the Channel. Not far from there rocks (oh, Gustave Doré!) drop almost sheer, supporting a forest. Almost always great undulating lines. The area is teeming with charmingly intimate corners alongside the great magical or decorative scenes....I have no doubt that you would be enchanted, you who love sunshine and voluptuous lines."
For the remainder of his career, Cross's art focused mainly on images of the local landscape as a vehicle for Neo-Impressionist experiments in color and composition. The Return of the Fisherman (Le Pêcheur Provençal) depicts the path to the beach at Saint-Clair, with the rocks known as "Les Baleines" (The Whales) visible in the surf. The foreground is dominated by the lone figure of a fisherman, balancing a large jug on his shoulder as he strides across the path; in the distance are two smaller figures silhouetted against the sky.
For Cross, as for other Neo-Impressionist painters, there was an inherent tension between the transcription of images directly from nature and the composition of pictures based on the artist's own more decorative and expressive arrangement of colors and shapes. Paul Signac frequently alluded to this conflict in his diary: "One should not allow oneself to be diverted by nature from one's ideal any more than one should do without nature and deprive oneself of all the beautiful, rare and varied [images] that it offers." 2 Cross's Return of the Fisherman and other landscape compositions from the later 1890s successfully resolve this struggle through an attention to surface design and a rhythmic play of curvilinear forms that show a strong decorative influence from Art Nouveau. 3 The intricate, undulating quality of the coastline and its rugged topography is emphasized by the use of strong lines and simplified, abstracted forms, which nonetheless do not obscure the specificity of the site.
During the early 1890s, the idyllic Mediterranean scenes composed by Cross and Signac were profoundly influenced by the serene, ordered classicism of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898). After about 1895, however, both Cross and Signac began to compose more casual, less compositionally ambitious scenes, 4 and simultaneously began to heighten their palettes and broaden their brushstrokes, separating each stroke slightly from the other with small areas of the canvas left in reserve. This latter phase of Neo-Impressionist divisionism sought to isolate each hue and to create vibrant shimmering visual effects through contrast, rather than to blend tones in the earlier pointillist manner. Instead of trying to re-create the effects of sunlight, Cross now suggested its intensity by means of saturated colors and pronounced contrasts; this practice is vividly demonstrated in The Return of the Fisherman in the immediate juxtaposition of the brilliant yellow-orange sky and the shadowy bluish contour of the land and trees, as well as in localized contrasts of individual hues. Cross, a daring colorist, exploited the expressive freedom of this new technique. In an introduction to the catalogue of an exhibition of Cross's work held in 1905, Emile Verhaeren noted, "As you [Cross] have written to me, your dream is for your art to not only be the "'glorification of nature' but the 'glorification of an inner vision.'" 5
To some extent, Cross's subject matter was also directed by his affiliation with the Neo-Impressionists. As a group, the Neo-Impressionists were committed anarchists, harboring a pronounced sympathy for the working man and a disdain for bourgeois taste and the standards of established government. The Anarchist-Communist movement was motivated primarily by a Utopian vision of the future, in which "the emancipation of humanity is achieved through the vision of those excluded or neglected by capitalist society," including workers, artists, and writers. 6 This sentiment was most directly manifested in paintings such as Cross's Evening Breeze (1894; Paris, Musée d'Orsay), which depicts a pastoral golden age that looks not to a mythological past, but to a glorious Utopian future that would be a natural outgrowth of the modern world. The fertile and relatively unspoiled Provençal coast, harboring vestiges of a classical past and saturated with vibrant colors and brilliant sunlight, became a favored theme and setting for the paintings of Cross and his anarchist Neo-Impressionist colleagues.
Several works by Cross are closely related to the Oberlin painting. A squared preparatory drawing for the fisherman was on the art market in the 1970s; 7 a watercolor of the landscape (without the figure) is in a private collection, Paris; and a letter from Cross to Paul Signac, written in the fall of 1896, includes a colored crayon drawing after this picture. 8
M. E. Wieseman
Henri-Edmond Cross (Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix) was born in Douai in 1856; in 1878 he was enrolled in the Écoles Académiques de Dessin et d'Architecture in Lille. He continued his study in Paris during the early 1880s, painting rather somber Realist portraits and still lifes. In 1881, the artist adopted an Anglicized version of his surname to avoid confusion with his famous namesake, Eugène Delacroix. Cross was one of the founders of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1884. There he met many artists of the Neo-Impressionist movement, including Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, but did not begin painting in a Neo-Impressionist style himself until 1891. Cross moved to the south of France in 1891 and eventually settled at Saint-Clair, a small village near St. Tropez, where he lived for the rest of his life. He exhibited regularly at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, and at La Libre Esthétique in Brussels.
In works of the early 1890s, Cross's pointillist Neo-Impressionist technique is marked by a dense and highly regular placement of small dots of paint. After the mid 1890s, he gradually abandoned this minute execution in favor of larger, blocky strokes of paint, which allowed for more intense color contrasts and more decorative surfaces. Cross's late paintings were a decisive--if short-lived--influence on Henri Matisse and other Fauve artists.
Compin, Isabelle. H. E. Cross. Paris, 1964.
Compin, Isabelle. "Henri Edmond Cross, 1856-1910." In The Neo Impressionists. Edited by Jean Sutter. Greenwich, Conn., 1970, pp. 63-76.
Deposited by the artist at Galerie Druet, Paris
Sale Atelier H. E. Cross, Paris (Hôtel Drouot), 28 October 1921, lot 30
Collection Maximilien Luce (1858-1941), Paris
Collection Frédéric Luce, Paris
With Wildenstein Galleries, New York, from whom purchased in 1953
Paris, Société des Artistes Indépendants, 1897. 3 April - 31 May. Cat. no. 273.
Brussels, La Libre Esthétique, 1901. 1 - 31 March. Cat. no. 140.
Paris, Galerie Druet, 1905. Exposition H. E. Cross. 21 March - 8 April. Introduction by Emile Verhaeren. Cat. no. 12.
Paris, Galerie Bernheim Jeune, 1937. Exposition rétrospective Henri Edmond Cross. 10 - 30 April. Preface by Maurice Denis. Cat. no. 12 (as Pêcheur de Saint-Clair).
New York, Wildenstein Galleries, 1953. Seurat and his Friends. 18 November - 26 December. Cat. no. 58.
The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1954. The Two Sides of the Medal: French Painting from Gérôme to Gauguin. 28 September - 6 November. Cat. no. 130.
Claremont, Calif., Pomona College, 1963. Muse or Ego--Salon and Independent Artists of the 1880s. 16 April - 12 May. Cat. no. 22.
Pittsburgh, The Carnegie Museum of Art, 1965. The Seashore in Paintings of the 19th and 20th Centuries. 21 October - 5 December. Cat. no. 21.
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., 1966. Seven Decades, 1895-1965: Crosscurrents in Modern Art. 26 April - 21 May. Cat. no. 23.
Octave-Maus, Madeleine. Trente années de lutte pour l'art. Brussels, 1926, p. 260 ill.
Compin, Isabelle. H. E. Cross. Paris, 1964, pp. 148-49, cat. no. 58.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 42-43, fig. 112.
The painting is generally in excellent condition. The lightweight, finely woven linen canvas was commercially prepared with an off-white ground; a second, white ground layer appears to have been applied by the artist over this initial layer. Major forms of the composition were first sketched in with paint, and then developed with small dabs of color, dissolving most of the sketched lines. The white ground, visible between the dabs of paint, plays a significant role in the aspect of the painting. A printed paper label is adhered to the back of the canvas: Atelier Henri Edmond Cross 1856-1910.
1. Letter from Cross to Paul Signac, quoted (in translation) in Françoise Cachin, Paul Signac (Greenwich, Conn., 1971), p. 55.
2. John Rewald, ed., "Extraits du journal inédit de Paul Signac, I (1894-95)," Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 6, vol. 36 (1949), p. 174.
3. Ellen W. Lee, The Aura of Neo-Impressionism: The W. T. Holliday Collection (Indianapolis, Ind., 1983), p. 24. Compare works such as Bords Méditerraneens, 1895 or Devant La Mer Provençale, ca. 1897 (Isabelle Compin, H. E. Cross [Paris, 1964], cat. nos. 51 and 61, respectively).
4. Martha Ward, Pissarro, Neo-Impressionism, and the Spaces of the Avant-Garde (Chicago and London, 1996), p. 237.
5. Emile Verhaeren, in Exposition H.-E. Cross (exh. cat., Galerie Druet, Paris, 1905); cited in Isabelle Compin, "Henri Edmond Cross, 1856-1910," in The Neo Impressionists, ed., Jean Sutter (Greenwich, Conn., 1970), p. 74.
6. John G. Hutton, Neo-Impressionism and the Search for Solid Ground: Art, Science, and Anarchism in Fin-de-Siècle France (Baton Rouge and London, 1994), p. 138.
7. Conté crayon on buff paper, 29.8 x 22.8 cm; exhibited Paris, Galerie Bernheim Jeune, 24 February-7 March 1913, no. 131, and subsequently in the sale New York (Sotheby Parke Bernet), 5-9 June 1979, lot 1447.
8. Noted by Isabelle Compin, H. E. Cross (Paris, 1964), p. 149, under no. 58.