This work will be included in the forthcoming Henri-Edmond Cross catalogue raisonné being prepared by Patrick Offenstadt.
With its meticulous application of paint, jewel-like daubs of sparkling colour and closely cropped composition, Etude pour Scène de corrida is one of the most highly finished preparatory works in Henri-Edmond Cross’s oeuvre.
A carefully considered watercolour dating from 1893, the work highlights the complexities of the pointillist technique Cross favoured during this period, while simultaneously providing an insight into the working methods of the artist. Cross had come into contact with Pointillism’s pioneer, Georges Seurat, while exhibiting at the Salon des Indépendants in 1884 and began to experiment with Seurat’s methods in the early 1890s. In Etude pour Scène de corrida, Cross uses the precise, methodical application of pure colour so characteristic of the pointillist technique to build his composition, relying on scientific theories of optics and colour to create the form of the two figures. This precision precluded working quickly, and required detailed planning and extensive thought prior to the artist beginning his composition.
Presenting a detailed view of the fashionably adorned heads of two figures, Etude pour Scène de corrida focuses solely on the audience members of a bull-fight in the fashionable Gran Plaza de Toros in Paris. Erected in the Bois du Boulogne as part of the Exposition Universelle of 1889, the venue attracted large crowds of diverse spectators, with dramatic matador displays held every Thursday and Sunday. Updating the traditional spectacle for a modern, cosmopolitan audience, the Gran Plaza de Toros boasted electric lighting and advertised elegant soirées alongside their performances. Although Cross had moved to the South of France in 1891, he made regular trips back to the capital, and must have attended the Gran Plaza de Toros during one of these visits. Locating himself in the audience, Cross captures the sense of anticipation amongst the spectators, with both figures adopting a similarly attentive pose, their focus entirely absorbed by the events within the ring.
Adapting the pointillist technique to watercolour, Cross showcases a masterful handling of the medium in Etude pour Scène de corrida, as he executes each dot with an intricate level of precision. He attains maximum luminosity by juxtaposing small, round touches of pure colour alongside complementary shades, creating beautiful modulations of pink, purple, navy, blue and orange. This is most striking in the attire of the figures where, depicted with a vast range of tonalities, Cross achieves a nuanced sense of texture and depth, particularly noticeable in their fashionable hats, as the artist varies the size and intensity of colour in the dots to capture the play of light and shadow across the different materials and shapes. Translated almost exactly into the completed painting, Etude pour Scène de corrida represents the sophisticated planning and precision in Cross’s artistic process, as he reaches the full iteration of his ideas and formulates them into a striking, fully formed composition.