Sunshine is everywhere in his paintings — and it’s easy to tell why.
Henri-Edmond Cross was born in 1856 in the rainy city of Douai in Northern France. He would then go on to spend his entire, relatively short, life in the sunny Southern seaside region of Var, waking up each morning and looking at the sun, in his own words, “eye to eye.” He would then transfer his visions to canvases that showcased scenes of lapping sea waves, sparkling trees along the plains and glittering mountain tops.
The landscapes of Var would remain his greatest passion throughout his life, and he would often tell his friends and art enthusiasts, “How lucky I am to be living next to a cobalt blue sea under an emerald blue sky! This is nothing else but Mother Nature’s own gracious smile at me but also at this bright Mediterranean coast!”
Cross, who was a tireless worker, died in 1910, at the age of 54. Following his death, he was mostly forgotten by later generations.
Currently, the Annonciade Museum in Saint Tropez, the much-visited seaside city in the painter’s chosen paradise, is offering an opportunity to art lovers to discover, or rediscover, these unusual landscapes painted by Cross.
A museum in southern France pays tribute to the works of neglected genius Henri-Edmond Cross
Cross began taking art lessons at the age of 10, in Douai, from one of the most respected painters of the era, Carolus Duran. Forever restless and curious, by the time he was 25, he moved to Paris, in order to become a member of the much-celebrated Salon des Artists Français, and continued painting in the Impressionist style until 1891.
This proved to be a decisive year, as he joined the neo-Impressionist movement led by the celebrated masters and art theorists of the epoch, such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, both of whom taught a group of youthful painters how to use the techniques of pointillism and divisionism. These lessons were given at Grande Jatte, a beautiful island on the river Seine, no more than a 10-minute bus ride away from the Arc de Triomphe.
Copies of many of these famous paintings by the masters are openly placed along the garden walks on the island, and anyone can visit them without having to pay any charges.
This new style, concentrating on the brightness and luminosity of nature, was soon given the name neo-Impressionism, and all art critics of the time paid tribute to these young painters who were inventing new art techniques. Cross remained heavily inspired by the idea of using sunlight as an inseparable element of his paintings, and for that reason he decided to move permanently to the sunny Var region. He would ceaselessly advise his young followers, “Stay with the sunshine and make your colours dance under it.”
He travelled restlessly to many other sunny, seaside cities, such as Venice and Naples in Italy, but always returned to Var, remaining faithful to neo-Impressionism, but at the same time giving his own creative touches to pointillism, for broader and more spontaneous renditions of the beaches of Saint-Clair, la Ferme Malherbe, Cap Layet and the Cavalière Bay. He would often take his works to Paris for exhibitions, where his style had a notable impact during his lifetime.
In my last review, I had discussed the career of Henri Matisse, who was a few years younger than Cross. Much impressed by Cross’ modus operandi, Matisse openly admitted that many of his own landscapes would not have been possible had he not followed the revolutionary advice from Cross to look into the sun “eye to eye” before picking up his brush.
‘Henri-Edmond Cross — In the Light of the Var’ is on display at the Annonciade Museum in Saint Tropez, France from July 10-November 14, 2023.
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 17th, 2023