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Henri-Edmond Cross- The French Artist Who Played a Crucial and Vital Role in the Development of Modern Painting

Vivid Cypresses at Cagne by Henri Edmond Cross - Painted 1908
"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."

Henri Edmond Cross (1856–1910) was a leading Neo-Impressionist painter, a pioneer of Pointillism, and a founding member of the Salon des Indépendants.

Cross was born Henri-Edmond-Joseph Delacroix, the only surviving child of his French father, Alcide Delacroix, and British mother, Fanny Woollett.  The family moved to Lille when Henri was 9.  He showed an interest in drawing when he was young and his parents sent him to Carolus-Duran, a painter and art instructor, for private drawing and painting lessons when he was 10. He was encouraged as a child to develop his artistic talent by his father’s widowed cousin, Dr. Auguste Soins, who paid for much of Henri’s artistic training.  Henri spent a short time in Paris when he was 19, studying under the tutelage of the French realist painter François Bonvin before returning to Lille.  At the age of 22 in 1878 he enrolled in a three-year course at the Écoles Académiques de Dessin et d’Architecture in Lille and studied under Alphonse Colas.  Three years later he returned to Paris and studied in the atelier (studio) of Émile Dupont-Zipcy. 

Self Portrait with a Cigarette by Henri Edmond Cross Painted-1880
(Painted in Realism Style)

The year 1884, was a milestone in French art.  Up until then any artist wanting to progress in their chosen career relied completely on having their works exhibited at the Paris Salon, and for that to happen they had to submit their paintings to a jury which decided whether their works were good enough to be exhibited. The jurists were, at this time, increasingly rigid and conservative in their views of what was considered acceptable for exhibit and were not receptive to the works presented by Impressionist artists, whose works had moved away from the traditional academic style.  The Impressionists would often have their paintings rejected by the Salon jurists or if they did manage to have a painting accepted it would be hung in such a way that it was almost hidden from view.  In 1863 the jurists rejected a surprisingly high percentage of paintings and this caused a furor among the “discarded” artists, resulting in the Salon des Refusés, an art exhibition held in 1863 in Paris for those artists that had been refused by the jury of the official Salon.  In 1880, the Salon again rejected the work of many Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, which led to a 2nd Salon des Refusés in 1883.  

Peasant Woman Relaxing in the Grass by Henri Edmond Cross - 1890
(Painted in Impressionist Style) 

The following summer a number of these disgruntled artists banded together and formed the Société des Artistes Indépendants (Society of Independent Artists) and based the society on the premise “sans jury ni recompense” (without jury nor award), allowing any artist who wanted to participate to display their work.  They held their own inaugural exhibition, Salon des Indépendants, in May 1884 where Henri Cross exhibited some of his paintings, along with other founding members of the Société including Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Georges Seurat.  Vincent Van Gogh also displayed some of his work at the exhibition.  

It was around this time that Cross changed his name, first to Henri Cross, and later to Henri-Edmond Cross, to differentiate himself from other French artists named Delacroix, (a very common name in France).  Delacroix means “Of the Cross” in French, so using the Anglicized version of the name (Cross) made sense.

In 1891 Cross became Vice-President of the Society.  He was by this time becoming one of the leading figures in the small world of Neo-Impressionist painters in France.

In The Garden by Henri Edmond Cross

Cross had begun wintering in the warm climes of the South of France in 1883, finally moving there full-time in 1891.  He met his future wife, Irma, there in 1888, and they married in 1893.  His health was poor, suffering from vision problems, rheumatism, arthritis, and eventually cancer, so after moving to the south he rarely travelled out of the area.  His friend Paul Signac moved to nearby Saint-Tropez in 1892, where they frequently hosted gatherings attended by visionaries such as Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet. 


​Cross’s painting styles evolved significantly over the years.  His early works, mainly portraits and still-lifes, were dark and in the Realism style.  After meeting Claude Monet in 1883, he gradually shifted to doing landscapes, in a brighter Impressionist style.  Impressionism uses lively colors and quick brush strokes to capture the texture of the subject and the impact of light on its surface rather than individual details. Instead of mixing colors on a palette, Impressionists placed the brush strokes on the canvas and let the viewer's eye do the mixing of colors. It is based more on emotions and the passing moment than science.

Most of Cross’s friends in the Société des Artistes Indépendants were Neo-Impressionists, a movement which peaked between 1886 and 1891.  Cross initially resisted that movement and continued working in the Impressionist style until 1891, when he adopted the Neo-Impressionist style.  Neo-Impressionism took advantage of the evolving knowledge of how the retina sees light and the mind combines colors.  Neo-Impressionism took the colors and themes of Impressionism but took a scientific approach to art, focused on the theory and division of color and vision and breaking things down to a more fundamental and basic level.   The primary techniques used in Neo-Impressionism abandoned actual brush strokes and replaced them with small, distinct patches (Divisionism) or dots (Pointilism) of color, which interacted optically to create shadow and dimension.  The dots appear to intermingle and blend in the observer’s eye.


Cross’s first Neo-Impressionist painting was a Divisionist portrait of his future wife, Irma Clare in 1891. 

 His affinity for the Neo-Impressionist movement involved not only adoption of the Divisionist and Pointilist techniques, but also the political philosophies of the members of the movement.  Many believed in anarchist principles and hoped for a utopian society, and this influenced his choice of subjects - scenes depicting a utopian world that could exist through anarchism.

Many of Cross’s paintings from the early to mid 1890’s are in the Pointilist style. Other artists who used this technique include Georges Seurat, Maximilien Luce, and Paul Signac. Other well-known artists who briefly made works in Pointillist style were Vincent Van Gogh and, early in their careers, Picasso, Mondrian and Kandinsky.

In 1895 Cross gradually began changing his technique, partly because he found it tedious and time consuming, and also because of issues with arthritis and his eyes.  Along with his friend Paul Signac, he began to develop a Neo-Impressionist technique that was more intensely colorful and varied in its application, using broad, blocky brushstrokes and leaving small areas of exposed bare canvas between the strokes.  The resulting surfaces resembled mosaics, and the paintings are seen as precursors to Fauvism and Cubism, techniques used by early 20th Century artists.  Examples of this are Cross's "The Artist's Garden at Saint-Clair", from 1904-05 and "Garden of the Painter at Saint-Clair" from 1908.  (Cross liked to paint his garden, apparently!)


The Promenade by Henri Edmond Cross - Painted 1897


Man Working on a Boat by Henri Edmond Cross - Painted 1899

Beach Evening Effect by Henri Edmond Cross - Painted 1902


San Giorgio Maggior by Henri Edmond Cross - Painted 1903-4

Cross died of cancer just four days short of his 54th birthday, on May 16, 1910.  In July 1911, the city of Cross's birth, Douai, mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work.   His work is widely acknowledged as having wide influence on later developments within the French avant-garde, and as a major pioneer of 20th-century painting.

Madame Hector by Henri Edmond Cross - Painted 1903-4



Portrait of Henri Edmond Cross by Maximilien Luce 1898