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Henri Edmond Cross (1856-1910)
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Henri Edmond Cross (1856-1910)

La petite maison à Saint-Clair

Details
Henri Edmond Cross (1856-1910)
La petite maison à Saint-Clair
signed and dated 'HE Cross 94' (lower right)
oil on canvas
21 3/8 x 24 in. (54.4 x 61.1 cm.)
Painted in 1894
Provenance
Baron Eberhard von Bodenhausen, Munich.
Fine Arts Associates (Otto M. Gerson), New York.
Ralph and Mary Booth, Detroit (acquired from the above, 1951).
Virginia Booth Vogel, Milwaukee (by descent from the above).
Fine Arts Associates (Otto M. Gerson), New York (acquired from the above, May 1956).
The New Gallery (E.V. Thaw), New York (acquired from the above).
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
William Curteis, New York (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, September 1958.
Literature
(probably) Letter from Cross to Paul Signac, (probably) Summer 1895.
(probably) Letter from Cross to Octave Maus, 17 January 1897.
The Art Quarterly, vol. XIV, Spring 1951, p. 87 (illustrated; titled Cannes).
Art News, May 1951, p. 58 (titled Landscape near Cannes).
J. Rewald, "Journal inédit de Paul Signac" in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 42, July-August 1953, p. 43 (illustrated, fig. 11; titled Paysage près de Cannes).
I. Compin, H.E. Cross, Paris, 1964, pp. 138-139, no. 49 (illustrated, p. 138).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, p. 185, no. 60 (illustrated).
Exhibited
(probably) Paris, Hôtel Bing, Salon de l'art nouveau, December 1895-January 1896, no. 63 (titled Bouquet de pins).
(probably) Brussels, La quatrième Exposition de la Libre Esthétique, February-April 1897, p. 20, no. 148 (titled Bouquet de pins).
(probably) Paris, Société des artistes indépendants, April-June 1898, p. 164, no. 142 (titled Bouquet de buis and dated 1898).
Cologne, Städtische Ausstellungshalle, L'Internationale Kunstausstellung des Sonderbundes westdeutscher Kunstfreunde und Künstler, May-September 1912, p. 36, no. 177 (titled Baumgruppe and dated 1904).
New York, Fine Arts Associates (Otto M. Gerson), Henri-Edmond Cross, April-May 1951, no. 4 (illustrated; titled Landscape near Cannes).
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Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Henri Edmond Cross being prepared by Patrick Offenstadt.

A northerner, born in industrial Douai and having received his arts education in Lille and Paris, Henri-Edmond Cross relocated to the Midi in 1891. He had been painting occasionally along the Mediterranean coast since 1883, when Dr. Auguste Soin, an elderly, wealthy relative who was acting as the artist’s benefactor, invited the young man and his parents to spend the summer at his new home in Monaco. Having begun in his mid-thirties to suffer the effects of chronic rheumatoid arthritis, Cross hoped the dry warmth of the southern climate would ameliorate his symptoms.
After searching along the coast for a place off the beaten track, Cross rented a small house in Cabasson, a tiny hamlet across from Le Lavandou on Cap Bénat in the Var region. He wrote to his friend Paul Signac: “Hills of pines and cork oaks come to die away gently into the sea, offering, in passing, a sandy beach of a fineness unknown on the shores of the Channel” (quoted in C. Homburg, Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., 2014, p. 134).
Cross strongly recommended the area, later called the Côte d’Azur, to Signac. Following an inland waterway route, Signac during the spring of 1892 sailed his small yacht Olympia from Brittany into the Mediterranean, then proceeded to Saint-Tropez, where he rented a cottage overlooking the sea. In May the painter-sailor wrote Cross: “I have enough here to keep me busy all my life—I have just discovered happiness” (quoted in ibid., p. 139).
Having appreciated the relative isolation and tranquility of Cabasson, Cross in 1892 purchased some land in Saint-Clair, an even smaller commune near Le Lavandou, and there had a house built as his permanent residence, from which he periodically visited Paris. From his front door, a few minutes’ walk would take him to a view very much like that seen in the present La petite maison à Saint-Clair, painted in 1894.
Such major changes had figured previously in Cross’s biography. At the age of 27, on the advice of his atelier master Bonvin, he altered his family name from Delacroix to the anglicized “Cross” (his mother was English), to avoid confusion with an academic genre painter with the same initials and last name. He finalized this pseudonym and its spelling several years later, when another artist, Henry Cros, began showing his work in Paris.
By early 1891, months before he decided to settle in the Midi, Cross effected a momentous transformation in his art. He had been associating with artists in the Neo-Impressionist circle around Seurat and Signac, and now fully committed himself to their program of employing the divisionist technique in the application of scientifically grounded color theory. He sent four canvases, each in the most rigorous pointilliste manner of his confrères, to the 1891 Salon des Indépendants, including a portrait of his wife-to-be, Irma Clare (Compin, no. 29).
Cross was a founding member and a regular contributor to the Salon des Indépendants. He served as vice-chairman of the 1892 exhibition, to which he sent four divisionist canvases, including Plage de la Vignasse. Seurat submitted Cirque and four Graveline port scenes; Signac unveiled his now iconic, whirling color pattern portrait of Félix Fénéon (Cachin, no. 211; gifted by Peggy and David Rockefeller to The Museum of Modern Art, New York), together with eight landscapes and coastal scenes. At this moment of triumph for Seurat and his colleagues, all were stunned to learn, only nine days following the opening, of the master’s sudden death, aged 31, from what was likely a malignant diphtheria infection.
The paintings Cross created during this early phase of his divisionist period are notable for their meticulously dotted technique, evoking delicate, subtle color harmonies, which interact not as strong contrasts of complementary tones, but as finely nuanced transitions from one hue to the next. He was careful to connote a specific time of day by describing a particular measure or condition of luminous sunshine. These early divisionist landscapes appear to have been overlaid with a pale, limpid film of light. The effect is hauntingly atmospheric and imparts to the scene a timeless serenity.
By 1895, however, the date of the present La petite maison à Saint-Clair, Cross had arrived at a different understanding of the roles of color and light in painting, which Signac was similarly pursuing in his work. He became less interested in the overall light effect, while giving more attention to the color that resulted from light striking a particular object or surface, as small as an individual leaf. Laying two complementary or contrasting tones side by side generated a third, and so on, leading to the creation of larger color harmonies or even dissonances. The viewer consequently perceives the landscape composition as the organization of these many color relationships, which reflect the artist’s sensation before the motif.
Living in an environment that everywhere blazed with pure hues and sun-bleached tones, Cross made it his obligation as a painter to treat every aspect of this optical reality as insightfully and truthfully as he could, in terms of that potent array of oil colors available to him on his palette. As Lucie Cousturier, also a divisionist painter, described a Cross picture, “It is no longer a rendering of light, tree or soil, it is a bold transposition of these into the abstract language of tints, in which each, in different degrees excited, solidified, or weakened, possesses infinite expressive values” (quoted in R.L. Herbert, Neo-Impressionism, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1968, p. 49).
To overcome the tendency of the pointillist technique to flatten space, a pitfall for the landscape painter who needs to evoke distance, Cross in La petite maison à Saint-Clair adroitly managed the placement of his motifs and the transition of complementary color values. A swerving line of ground foliage and a pattern of footpaths leads the eye from the clump of stone pines that dominates the left side of the composition to the house on the distant rise—possibly the artist’s own—and the vast, open sky beyond.
Isabelle Compin identified this painting, which she provisionally titled Paysage, with Bouquet de pins, a canvas shown in three exhibitions in Paris and Brussels during 1895-1898 (op. cit., 1964, p. 139). In a letter to Signac written in the summer of 1895, Cross mentioned the addition of a cloud, which is very likely the large, open, palm-like form reaching into the upper right corner, which enhances the feeling of movement in the composition. In addition to the pleasant sensations of brilliant light and warmth, the prospect of wide open and seemingly endless space, the viewer may feel the very breeze, perhaps even an occasional stiff gust of wind, that has set the pine branches in a swaying motion, glinting in the sun.

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