Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910)
Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910)
Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910)
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Property from the Family of Robert Treat Paine II
Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910)

Le faux poivrier (Provence)

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910)
Le faux poivrier (Provence)
signed 'Henri Edmond Cross' (lower left)
oil on canvas
29 x 36 ¼ in. (73.6 x 92.1 cm.)
Painted in June 1907.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, 31 October 1907).
J. Laroche, Paris (acquired from the above, 10 June 1911).
Private collection, Basel.
Anon. sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 30 April 1969, lot 50.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Letter from H.-E. Cross to M. Luce, 28 June 1907.
Letter from F. Fénéon on behalf of Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris, to O. Maus, 2 January 1908.
H. Bidou, "Les Salons de 1910" in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, May 1910, p. 363.
Fierens-Gevaert, "Journal de Bruxelles" in La vie douaisienne, 20 May 1911, no. 140, p. 2.
L Cousturier, "Henri-Edmond Cross" in L'art décoratif, May 1913, p. 124.
I. Compin, H.-E. Cross, Paris, 1964, p. 294, no. 196 (illustrated).
Brussels, La Libre Esthétique, Seizième exposition, March-April 1909, p. 28, no. 84.
Paris, Cours la Reine, Société des Artistes Indépendants, 26e exposition, March-May 1910, p. 91, no. 1220.
Brussels, La Libre Esthétique, Dix-huitième exposition, March-April 1911, p. 25, no. 45.
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., H.-E. Cross, 1913, no. 25.
Further details
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Henri-Edmond Cross being prepared by Patrick Offenstadt.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“In [Cross’s] work one can sense the joy of painting, the love of delicate harmonies, an inexpressible hesitation, mystery and unexpectedness. He is at once a cold, methodical thinker, and a strange and troubled dreamer.” – Paul Signac
Painted in a shimmering mosaic of luminous color, Le faux poivrier (Provence) is an ode to the serene, sun-kissed atmosphere of the South of France, where Henri-Edmond Cross had relocated to in 1891. Renowned for its unspoiled, natural charm, the Côte d’Azur was popularly known as the pays du soleil during this period, an exotic, halcyon land of sunshine and light. Writing to Paul Signac shortly after his arrival in the South of France, Cross described the area as a “fairytale” land, while almost a decade later, the artist still spoke of the powerful effects the sunlight had on his imagination: “In summer … the light streaming profusely down on everything attracts you, stupefies you, drives you mad” (letter to Charles Angrand, 12 August 1901, quoted in I. Compin, op. cit., 1964, p. 32).
Drawn to the warm climate for health reasons, Cross and his wife had settled in the tiny remote hamlet of Saint-Clair, where they built a house nestled amongst vineyards and orchards at the foot of the Massif des Maures, just a short distance from the sea. Over the course of the following two decades, Cross immersed himself completely in this environment, captivated by the rich, exotic vegetation, dramatic topography and the sparkling play of light that danced across the surface of the Mediterranean Sea. In Le faux poivrier (Provence), it is the fecund beauty of the artist’s own garden, with its sumptuous colors and abundant vegetation, that sparks his imagination. Writing to his friend the artist Maximilien Luce on the 28th June 1907, Cross discussed the joy of finding the garden in full bloom following a brief sojourn in Paris, and mentioned that the present composition had just been completed: “Since my return I have only made one canvas in my garden, which is always so amazingly flowered when we come back here” (letter to M. Luce, 28 June 1907, quoted in ibid., p. 294).
The present view appears to have been captured from the large studio Cross had built a few meters from the main house, where he spent much of his day working, only emerging when his wife rang a bell attached to the wall at the back of the house to signal that lunch was served. The garden is shown at the height of its summer growth, in which every space seems filled with layers of dense foliage, the profuse plant-life almost engulfing the elegant portico and columns of the entrance to the main house. Vibrant green brushstrokes dance across the surface of the canvas in a densely woven tapestry of color, interspersed with the red shades of poppy flowers and the soft pink of the rose shrubs planted along the edge of the house. To the right, the strong form of the faux poivrier or Schinus molle, an evergreen tree native to the Andes whose leaves give off a strong smell of pepper when crumpled, acts as a counterpoint to the architectural structure, the sinuous lines and arabesques of the branches cutting through the shimmering cloud of cascading leaves.
There is a fluidity and liberalism to Cross’s brushwork in Le faux poivrier (Provence), which was a direct result of his attempts to marry the chromatic principles of divisionism with a new expressiveness that reflected the artist’s own personal response to the landscape. As he explained to Signac in 1895, his ultimate aim was to have “technique cede its place to sensation” (quoted in ibid., p. 42). Here, his brush appears to dance across the canvas, alternating between slightly elongated dashes of paint that resemble the carefully placed geometric tesserae of a mosaic, and sinuous, almost cursive, comma-like strokes that seem to resonate with the energy of the artist’s hand. It was this highly personal approach to Neo-Impressionism, filtered through long contemplation and deep understanding of the principles of the divisionist technique, which led Cross to become an important touchstone for a younger generation of artists, in particular Henri Matisse and the Fauves.
However, it was the timeless tranquility of Cross’s art, his pursuit of harmony and order within the exuberant world of nature, which emerged most strongly in works such as Le faux poivrier (Provence). “What has nature to offer?” the artist asked. “Disorder, hazard, gaps. Yet we fall into ecstasy at this chaos and exclaim: ‘How beautiful.’ This is where the artist’s work begins and where he must ‘organize his sensations’ by imposing order and completeness on this disorder […] But how are we to proceed in the concrete expression of our emotion? We must select fragments and details, and arrange them in an orderly manner with the artist’s aim in mind, which is to transform, transpose and interpret … Every time I feel tied down to the true fact, the documentation, the feeling ‘this is how it looked,’ I must ignore it and remember the final aim of rhythm, harmony, contrasts, etc. I must paint in verse” (quoted in J. Sutter, ed., The Neo-Impressionists, London, 1970, p. 76).
Purchased at auction in 1969, Le faux poivrier (Provence) has been a part of the Paine family collection for over fifty years, and reflects the manner in which Robert Treat Paine II’s collecting activities directly shaped the tastes of subsequent generations of his family. A descendant of one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, Paine was an avid collector and true connoisseur of art, acquiring a diverse array of masterpieces over the course of his life, from medieval tapestries and Old Master drawings, to exquisite Sèvres porcelain and paintings by El Greco, Rembrandt and Gustave Courbet. Renowned for his discerning taste, Paine’s passion for French art emerged during the 1920s, leading him to purchase a number of artworks by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, including the two exquisite oil studies by Georges Seurat also offered in this sale. It may have been a familiarity with these masterful early examples of pointillism which inspired the purchase of Le faux poivrier (Provence) by a descendant. Considered together, the three works reflect the overarching concerns and techniques which united Seurat and his comrades, while also illustrating the nuances of their individual styles, as they explored and pushed pointillism to its full potential.

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