This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Henri Edmond Cross being prepared by Patrick Offenstadt.
Working in close proximity on the Côte d’Azur in 1892, Cross and Paul Signac explored the methods and theories of Neo-Impressionist divisionism as pioneered by Georges Seurat, who passed away the year prior. Scientists Ogden Rood, Michel-Eugène Chevreul and Charles Henry each published theories of light and color in which they analyzed the differentiation between color-light and color-pigment. Their findings provoked the interest of a group of young artists frustrated by the Impressionist approach to painting the effects of light and atmosphere. Experimenting with the scientific notion of optical mixing, they created forms out of small dots of pure pigment in their painting. Though Cross was friendly with many of the Neo-Impressionist group, he did not begin painting divisionist pictures until after Seurat’s death in 1891. By the end of the decade, Cross had abandoned the pointillist dot and instead favored separated rectangular strokes of pure color, similar to the tesserae of mosaics. Cross aimed ultimately for his “technique [to] cede its place to sensation” (I. Compin, op. cit., p. 42).
In July 1903, Cross and his wife traveled to Venice, where they remained for five weeks. The artist was captivated by the beauty of the city, falling under its spell like so many others before him. While the artist was moved by the works of Vittore Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, Francesco Guardi, Paolo Veronese and Jacopo Tintoretto, he was disappointed by the Venetian scenes by Canaletto, noting that they were far too “cold and linear.” His notebooks were filled with sketches and watercolors of the lagoon and city’s canals with careful detailing of the gondolas and sailing vessels. After returning to his home in Saint-Clair in September, Cross began a series of oil paintings that he based on his notes and sketches from his Venetian sojourn. In a letter to fellow neo-Impressionist Charles Angrand, Cross wrote, “The admiration and the taste that one has for the coast of Provence prepares one for the sensual joy of Venice. Their two contrasted beauties create a happy balance: one is brown and stripped bare, the other is blonde and bedecked in the most marvelous jewels. As it is in Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, the two gaze at one another in the same water” (quoted in F. Baligand, Cross et le néo-impressionnisme, exh. cat., Musée de la Chartreuse de Douai, 1998, p. 42).